LGBTQ owners keep restaurant dining rooms closed – for now

Dining rooms in some LGBTQ restaurants and gay-popular eateries will remain closed, as owners are concerned about the safety and comfort of their employees and customers. 

Restaurants were allowed to reopen dining rooms on Monday if they followed a long list of conditions, under an order by Gov. Brian Kemp easing coronavirus restrictions. But owners told Project Q Atlanta this week that it’s too soon – and threw in some had harsh words for Kemp.

“We listen to science on this one, not politicians,” said Jen and Emily Chan (top photo), owners of JenChan’s in Cabbagetown. “We live and work in our neighborhood and our staff is our family. We could not open our doors to the uncertainty with every major subject matter expert, including our own CDC, exclaiming that it was too soon."

Johnny Martinez and Brandon Ley, owners of Joystick Gamebar and Georgia Beer Garden on Edgewood Avenue, said health and safety concerns helped them decide to keep their businesses closed.

“Frankly, we don't trust Governor Kemp when it comes to science. We'll continue to listen to the CDC, the WHO, and the mayor,” they said. 

Rich Spillane, co-owner of The Shed at Glenwood, called Kemp’s decision to allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms “deplorable.”

“We will appeal to our customers and staff to trust science and not politicians when we do decide to reopen,” Spillane said. “Until reliable testing is being conducted, it is impossible to set a date for reopening.”

Woofs was one of the first LGBTQ-owned restaurants to offer takeout service when in-person dining was banned in March. But owner Gregory Hughes (second photo right) said they weren’t comfortable reopening the dining room on Monday.

“We felt it was too soon, and we were not ready to meet the 39 guidelines necessary to open,” Hughes said.

For Metrotainment, which operates popular LGBTQ spots Joe’s on Juniper and Einstein’s in Midtown, concerns about coronavirus are keeping those restaurants closed for now.

“Unfortunately, there are too many unknowns with the pandemic and its effect on our staff and guests,” a spokesperson said.

'Provide a safe and comfortable environment'

Some of the restaurants – including JenChan’s, Woofs, the five locations of fast-casual Gusto! and four of Metrotainment’s Hudson Grille locations – offer delivery and takeout. (In fact, JenChan’s started its business with the Delivery Supper Club, which has expanded during the pandemic.)

For Roxx, the gay-popular restaurant on Cheshire Bridge Road, it offered carryout and delivery service and, as of Monday, limited dine-in options.

Customers at Roxx can now eat their meals on the restaurant’s large patio. The food comes in takeout containers, there is no table service, and the restaurant removed several tables and about 40 chairs from the patio, owner Dean Chronopoulos told customers in an email on Monday.

“This not an opportunity to invite friends for a party gathering at Roxx,” Chronopoulos wrote. “There will limited seating at each table, and you will not be able to move any table or combine them. This new patio policy is merely an opportunity for you to relax and take in some fresh air while you are enjoying a good meal.”

Gusto! said it doesn’t have a target date for reopening its dining rooms but will follow state and federal guidelines – as well as its own strict company protocols – when it does.

“We will make sure we provide our team members and guests a safe and comfortable environment,” Marketing Director Nick Tapp said.

But reopening with limited capacity – while facing stringent health guidelines – will make it tough, Jen and Emily Chan said.

“We do know that opening at 25 percent occupancy is just not feasible for this industry. Restaurants fail all the time at 100 percent capacity. Our conversation needs to shift and focus on what the industry will do next. We certainly can’t pay all the bills and rent required to operate with only a quarter of our guests showing up due to social distancing guidelines,” they said.

'We will be here when this is all over (like Cher)'

Hughes said Woofs could fully reopen its dine-in services in a few weeks. But when that happens, it will be with limited seating, increased cleaning and sanitizing, single-use menus and condiments, and employees wearing masks.

“At this point, we are looking at mid-May for dine-in opening with reduced and spread out seating,” he said.

Spillane said they want to see expanded coronavirus testing for the public and a decline in new COVID-19 infections before they reopen The Shed.

“Until reliable testing is being conducted, it is impossible to set a date for reopening,” he said.

Metrotainment said it also needs to see “measured proof of safety for staff and guests alike” before reopening Joe’s and Einstein’s.

Martinez and Ley (third photo) said they aren’t sure when Georgia Beer Garden and Joystick Gamebar will reopen but added they – and their businesses – are survivors.

“We're hard-drinking faggots with a penchant for good weed. We're also survivors (like Reba) and flexible to change (like Madonna). We will be here when this is all over (like Cher). We're looking forward to seeing people again,” they said.

Read more coverage of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting LGBTQ Atlanta.

Top and second photos by Patrick Saunders; third photo by Russ Youngblood