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Too Soon Or Time? How Phoenix Restaurants Deal With Reopening

By Christina Estes
Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - 1:36pm

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Bob Pappandorous/Chicago Hamburger Company
Chicago Hamburger Company employees demonstrate which tables are open during limited dine-in service in May 2020.

Despite being able to resume dine-in service, it’s far from business as usual for Arizona restaurants. In April, we featured two Phoenix restaurants coping with COVID-19 in different ways. Four weeks later, we check in to see how they’re doing. 

Chicago Hamburger Company

On a Friday afternoon, Bob Pappandorous gets his delivery of sliders and fries. 

“I’m back on regular delivery patterns again,” he said.

man standing next to banner with phone number
Chicago Hamburger Company
Bob Pappandorous stands outside his restaurant in April 2020.

Until this week, Bob’s restaurant, Chicago Hamburger Company at 38th Street and Indian School Road, had been offering takeout only. Now about a third of his booths and tables are open. 

“Reason they come here two, three, four days a week for a lot of the people that do that is because they talk to us, it’s a comfortable place for them to be, they know other customers they talk to, it’s a place with a lot of familiarity,” he said.

But the reality is Bob can’t make dine-in service too comfortable. 

“I canceled my Direct TV until you know, I had dining in again but I thought about it and said, well if I’ve only got six tables in the joint I’m not going to put the television on and give them something to watch so they can stay longer. I need them to get the heck out of here so I can seat somebody else,” he said.

Business is down 60% since mid-March. That’s when Bob reduced hours to lunch only and immediately applied for federal aid. After a month of hearing nothing, he moved to a smaller bank and within about a week received money from the Paycheck Protection Program — $50,000 to cover his employees’ salaries for two months. I talked to Bob the day after he got the money. 

“I got teary a couple times because, you know, it was the first of anything, of any program of any kind that’s come through,” he said.

“I got teary a couple times because, you know, it was the first of anything, of any program of any kind that’s come through."
— Bob Pappandorous, owner of Chicago Hamburger Company

That night Bob expected to finally sleep well, but, "I was up all night because you gotta do this thing right, so it stays a grant and not a loan. You can’t screw this thing up, how you do it and how you verify it, so that went through my brain all night long,” he said.

The Breadfruit and Rum Bar

On May 4, when Gov. Doug Ducey announced restaurants could resume dine-in service under certain guidelines starting May 11, he called it a safe and good option. 

“I’m focused 100% on the public health emergency and bringing our economy back,” he said. “That’s where my focus is.”

chairs stacked on tables
Danielle Leoni/The Breadfruit and Rum Bar
The Breadfruit and Rum Bar opened during the Great Recession and experienced record sales in January and February 2020.

“I can’t ask my sous chef to come in who has a wife and three children at home to come in and take that risk,” said Danielle Leoni, executive chef and co-owner of the Breadfruit and Rum Bar.

“I can’t ask my sous chef to come in who has a wife and three children at home to come in and take that risk."
— Danielle Leoni, co-owner of the Breadfruit and Rum Bar.

Leoni last served diners at her downtown restaurant 55 days ago. Creating and presenting dishes with sustainable seafood, locally raised meats and organic produce while wearing gloves and masks doesn’t feel right to her. 

“I need to know that there is such a decline in cases of the virus that Governor Ducey would come into my full dining room on a Friday night without a single bit of protective gear and spend his money with me,” she said. "[Then] I will open."

The Breadfruit’s co-owner, Dwayne Allen, is among more than 250 small business owners across Arizona that signed a letter stating it is too soon to reopen dining rooms and shops to the public.

signs says please wait to be seated
Danielle Leoni/The Breadfruit and Rum Bar
The Breadfruit and Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix closed on March 19, 2020 and remains closed in May.

It reads in part: “We await guidance from credible epidemiological experts & researchers for a reopen that is safe for our customers and staff.”

The letter acknowledges that every business owner has unique circumstances to consider and decisions to make. The Arizona Restaurant Association created a set of guiding principles and operating protocols, which includes recommended measures from the Governor’s Office.

For 55 days, the Breadfruit has been still while Leoni's mind has raced. She launched the Arizona Small Restaurant Coalition and successfully lobbied the governor to issue a moratorium on commercial rent evictions. But they’ve made no progress in getting fees and interest waived for overdue sales tax. 

“I’m not the government, I’m not the governor, I am not a congressperson. I am not in charge,” she said. “All I can tell you is if you think I’m all that important because I’m the backbone of the economy, well then let’s stop breaking the backbone and figure out how to save it.” 

Critical Time

The next four to six weeks could determine the future of the Breadfruit and Chicago Hamburger Company. The governor’s order halting evictions for small businesses expires May 31 and the federal program paying Bob’s employees ends in June. 

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