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Fairfield restaurants see added difficulties with new mandates

Whitney Schutten serves a cup of coffee at Café Paradiso’s in Fairfield. The business introduced window service in March so customers could pick up orders without having to enter the building. Manager Ryan Hoagland said the restaurant has been making employees and customers wear masks even before Gov. Kim Reynolds’s latest proclamation. (Andy Hallman/The Union)
Whitney Schutten serves a cup of coffee at Café Paradiso’s in Fairfield. The business introduced window service in March so customers could pick up orders without having to enter the building. Manager Ryan Hoagland said the restaurant has been making employees and customers wear masks even before Gov. Kim Reynolds’s latest proclamation. (Andy Hallman/The Union)

FAIRFIELD – The COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s effort to control it is making it more difficult to run a business.

Krista Mathes, owner of SOMM Wines in Fairfield, said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ most recent order Monday mandating masks and limiting both indoor and outdoor groups has left her confused.

“The troubling thing about her new mandate is the wording regarding mask use, group sizes and maximum seating,” Mathes said. “With so much wiggle room and confusing verbiage, owners are scratching their heads as to what exactly the new ‘laws’ are, and how to enforce them correctly.”

Mathes said that even before the governor’s order, she had decided Sunday to return to a takeout-only service model with no indoor seating.

“Quite frankly, I do not want to risk my licenses nor the guests’ health with such room for error,” she said.

Mathes said employees are now required to wear masks unless they are working alone with no customers, which is how she finds herself. Mathes had two employees, but now that she has ceased indoor service, she will be working solo until things improve.

“It’s a strange time for any business owner right now,” she said. “We have to outweigh any monetary concerns with peoples’ health risks,” Mathes said.

One part of the governor’s order forbids indoor service after 10 p.m. for bars and restaurants, although they can continue carryout and delivery. Mathes said that part of the proclamation does not affect here because her last call is at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Tony Baker, owner of the barbecue restaurant Sweet ‘n’ Saucy in Fairfield, said the time restriction won’t affect him, either, since his restaurant is not normally open after 10 p.m.

The governor’s mask mandate does not apply to customers in bars or restaurants who are sitting down to eat. Baker said customers are required to wear masks when they’re not seated.

“Many customers are doing this anyway,” he said.

Baker said he’s been making its employees wear masks if they have direct contact with customers, even before the governor’s order.

Ryan Hoagland, manager of Café Paradiso in Fairfield, said the new restrictions announced Monday won’t affect his restaurant because it has had a mask mandate for months. In fact, Hoagland said the latest proclamation didn’t go far enough.

“There’s too much wiggle-room in it,” he said. “This is no time for half measures.”

Café Paradiso employee Whitney Schutten said there were too many exceptions in the new rules. For instance, the proclamation mandates masks for everyone 2 years old or older in public, indoor spaces who are within 6 feet of others for 15 minutes. Schutten wondered about the 15-minute portion of the rule, saying that if a person sneezes, they can transmit the virus even if they’re inside for a much shorter time.

Café Paradiso created an online portal for ordering when the pandemic hit in March and created a service window so people could order items without having to enter the store. This has allowed the business to stay afloat, and Hoagland reported that its August revenue was better than its revenue from August 2019.

However, overall, the pandemic has hurt the business. Hoagland estimated revenue is down 5 percent to 15 percent compared to last year.

The restaurant already had a mask mandate for its employees and its customers before the proclamation. Schutten said a few customers have complained, but the business feels it’s important to prioritize public safety.

“We consider it as part of our dress code,” Hoagland said. “I’d feel terrible if we were the cause of someone getting sick.”