Friday is a big day for businesses around Loudoun County, most of which will be able to reopen in some capacity after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Tuesday that he will lift restrictions that have been in place since March 24.
One of the biggest changes is that restaurants will now be able to offer seated dining outside on the patio.
Under Phase One of the Forward Virginia reopening plan, restaurants, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, cideries and wineries are able to open with outdoor seating if they have a permit from the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC).
Other regulations state that the occupancy must remain at 50 percent and the seating must be on the same parcel as the establishment that it serves and not be located within any vehicular travel lanes, fire lanes, handicapped accessible area or required access to and from the building, according to a release from Loudoun County government.
Kevin Bednarz, owner of The Ashburn Pub and The Purcellville Pub, has been a vocal advocate throughout the pandemic – not only for his business, but all local businesses – and he said both pubs are ready to start Phase One on Friday.
“We are beyond thrilled to enter Phase One and want to thank every single customer, friend and community member that helped us get past the last 60 days, which were obviously the hardest for any small businesses let alone restaurants,” Bednarz said.
In Leesburg, the Leesburg Town Council on Tuesday approved a temporary modification to the Leesburg Zoning Ordinance regarding parking requirements for restaurants.
This measure is aimed at increasing opportunities for restaurants to create outdoor dining areas while social distancing restrictions remain in effect, according to town officials.
Under the modified regulations, restaurants may apply for a temporary use permit for outdoor dining.
Finding space for tables outside can be difficult for many of the restaurants in downtown Leesburg. Representatives for The Wine Kitchen said they plan to have four tables outside on the patio, while Black Hoof Brewing said they do not have enough space to add outdoor seating and will continue with carry out options.
There was some discussion during Tuesday's Town council meeting about closing down streets for restaurants to add tables, however, that raises concerns about large crowds gathering.
“Some folks have talked about closing streets. We want to encourage energy everywhere, everyone is hurting,” said Councilman Ron Campbell.
Town Manager Kaj Dentler said the town is looking at other options to help businesses, and he is waiting to have some rules clarified from the state.
“Closing the streets is problematic right now because of the crowds we could generate, which is the opposite of what we should be doing,” Dentler said.
In the Village at Leesburg near Wegman's, Chefscape is creating an area with six themed dining “pop-up” tents outside, located in parking spaces adjacent to the restaurant. Themes for the tents range from surfing to Harry Potter to racing.
The tents will hold up to eight people and may be reserved online beginning on Saturday for a two-hour window with a $65 deposit, which will be applied to a meal tab.
Using QR technology, customers can order meals from the food hall vendors and have meals delivered to the tents. Participating vendors are Colombian's Place, Flavour and Chaat Wala. The Chefscape bar will also operate in the same way.
Courtenay Jeffers, director of business development for Chefscape, said they are working with vendors to pivot and make adjustments.
Jeffers also noted that the Village at Leesburg has had its “strolling license” renewed, which means customers can purchase beer, wine or cocktails and walk around within the limits of the development.
Farther down Route 7, at One Loudoun in Ashburn, Matchbox Restaurant General Manager Jason Steenrod said they plan to open the downstairs patio initially and “see how it goes.”
There are five tables on the patio, which can collectively seat 20 people. Matchbox has two additional upstairs patios that will open eventually, he said.
“We are ready with new cleaning measures in place and team members in masks and gloves. Safety is of the utmost importance,” Steenrod said.
Jim Drost, director of culinary operations at Matchbox, said they will be serving brunch everyday, with popular menu items including a lemon poundcake french toast served with eggs, bacon and brunch potatoes and a crab and avocado omelet served with fruit and a salad.
Drost said he is also preparing specialty cocktails to-go served in individual and large size portions.
Both Drost and Steenrod are upbeat about making it this far through the pandemic, and they are hoping for a busy weekend.
"Our guests have kept us going through this with their great feedback. Friday night pizza night has generally been our best day," Drost said.