Area Restaurants Open, Close Temporarily, Open Again

Kaizen, 416 Clinch Ave., Knoxville, June 2016

I could just as easily have titled this article “Why I Love My Downtown Restaurants,” but I’ll get to that later.

A number of downtown bars and restaurants closed temporarily due to various concerns regarding COVID-19. To put one rumor to rest: There has been no downtown outbreak of the virus. You can check the map here and you’ll see the breakdown by zip code. There have been 0-5 cases among downtown residents of COVID-19. No doubt, there will be more, but so far, downtown has been one of the lowest reporting zip codes in the city. It’s also one of the smallest.

But here is what happened: A number of downtown restaurants which had been opened closed, now some have opened again. They each gave similar, but slightly different reasons for the closures. Here’s a look:

Landing House, Beside Proposed Roundabout, Sevier Avenue, Knoxville, April 2018

Landing House, Beside Proposed Roundabout, Sevier Avenue, Knoxville, April 2018

Landing House: According to their Facebook Page, they attribute their closure to the increase in positive cases in Tennessee, saying,

Hello, we at Landing House are doing our best to navigate the ever-changing problem that is COVID-19. Due to the recent spike in positive tested cases in Tennessee, we are taking a step back to better be able to ensure the safety of our employees and our community. We will be closed until further notice. We thank you for all of your support. Stay safe, wear a mask, and please wash your hands. We hope to be back to safely serve you pho and Jell-O shots ASAP.

Paysan, 804 Tyson Street, Knoxville, September 2018

Paysan: The statement on their Facebook Page noted “spikes throughout the community.” This statement was from Monday, so, presumably, they are open today:

As a precaution we are going to be closed tomorrow. There have been spikes in Covid-19 cases throughout the community and we want to be extra careful. Times are hard and decisions aren’t easy but it is safety that is of most importance and that is what we want. Thank you all so much for your support, and we will keep you updated daily, but please bare with us as we navigate through this weird time. We appreciate you so much and look forward to slinging bagels for you soon. Much love- Paysan

Tern Club, 135 South Gay Street, Knoxville, December 2019

Tern Club: Their statement did reference infections in the downtown area, though perhaps this referenced exposure to downtown workers:

Hey Knoxville – your support has been wonderful since our reopening; however, due to increased infections in the downtown area we will be closing our doors temporarily as a preventative measure until all of our staff can be tested. Our hope is that we will be able to reopen soon and enjoy Tern Club safely. We will be sure to keep you all up to date. Stay safe friends.

Tako Taco, 235 West Depot Avenue, Knoxville, August 2018

Kaizen and Tako Taco: This statement specifically referenced “indirect contact” to employees:

Kaizen and Tako Taco will be closed for at least the next few days. As many of you may know, there has been a significant spike in cases in Knoxville over the course of the last couple weeks. With that being said, we have a couple of employees who may have had secondhand contact with a person who has recently tested positive for Covid-19. Immediately upon hearing that their
acquaintance may have come in contact with said person, these employees notified us of the situation and put themselves through testing protocol at an urgent care facility here in Knox County.

As this circumstance is less than 24 hours old, we are still trying to figure out our best recourse. What we do know is that we will be closed until those test results come back. As the safety of our community is paramount to us, we do not want to take any chances of compromising the health of our employees and guests. Thank you so much for your continued support of our local community. Stay safe.

WVLT reported that Tako Taco subsequently re-opened.

So what are the take aways from all of this? I think there are several.

First, it underlines that re-opening our economy isn’t just a matter of putting the “open” sign in the door. Employees and customers have to be well for there to be commerce. I’ve run into people on Facebook saying it doesn’t matter if the case counts are up, as long as hospitals are ok and people aren’t dying. This helps explain why simple cases are a problem. Do you want businesses open? Wear a mask to help keep cases down so businesses can stay open.

Second, it underscores how vulnerable and exposed our front-line workers, like restaurant workers, are on an everyday basis. Love your waiter, waitress or bartender? Protect them as much as you can and tip them well. Most of them are currently confronting a choice between risking their health for a low-paying job, or quitting and having nothing. For those whose jobs have returned, not going to work also means losing unemployment.

Finally, and this is the throwback to the first line of the article, it underscores how much these particular business owners care about their employees and about you. They are willing to give up their income to keep you safe. In this context it is interesting that these are all downtown restaurants. I haven’t heard of any chain restaurants in west Knoxville who have closed. Do you think that is because none of their workers have been exposed?

Remember this final point when you are choosing a restaurant to which you will trust your health. I know I am going to remember this story and the business owners who put my safety first. Every single one of these places, not coincidentally, also makes some of the best food and beverages you’ll find in the city.

Comments

  1. Kristi Gordon says

    Amen, Alan. Amen.

  2. A big thank you to the restaurants who are being so thoughtful.

  3. David Deibler says

    I thank each and every restaurant/bar that closes for my safety. Even if they have to go back to “to go” service, I will be ordering from them and tipping well.

  4. Carol E. Myers says

    I wish I would see this kind of thoughtfulness where I live, in the current hot spot of Sevier County. Thanks once again for your reports.

  5. Phillip Jennings says

    I wonder if any of these closures are due to contact tracing by the health department? They are supposed to be doing contact tracing, right? So if someone gets infected and reports they recently ate at so-and-so restaurant, would the health department report this to the business and request/require them to test employees and/or temporarily close? For us to safely reopen, I think that is what needs to happen and I would feel better if I knew the health department was actually doing this versus relying on a customer or an employee to self-report a possible exposure. I wish a reporter would ask the health department briefing about how the contact tracing is going with businesses or if they have even contacted any businesses about possible exposures from customers.

    • Bob Fischer says

      Up until now, the County Health Department has been in charge of contact tracing. As I understood and understand the situation, the county was going to call back furloughed workers and train them to trace, but now has turned this over to the state. The state will be subcontracting this out to the private sector who will no doubt be every bit as fastidious as our own Health Director./snark.

      The County decision making process appears to be disjointed and designed to hide accountability for any given decision. It is no co-incidence that Martin Daniel is pushing to outlaw any liability lawsuits for negligence due to corona-virus. He and Glenn Jacobs would be subject to literally millions in lawsuits if he can’t get this passed.

      • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

        I think there is a little nuance to what you are saying, Bob. The Health Department is continuing to contact trace. In other words, when a person is identified as positive, they are interviewed to determine all their recent contacts and those people are then contacted and asked to quarantine. The Health Department does this. Once they feel they have followed the chain as far as they can, they turn those names over to this new group for the daily follow-up checks on each of the identified people. This frees up time for the local Health Department to trace the next positive cases. It’s important because it needs to be done very quickly.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      It was discussed today, but not exactly from that angle. They are doing contact tracing, so I can’t imagine they would not contact every business the person had visited.

    • Gabrielle Roberts says

      Contact tracing is occurring. I still haven’t heard a clear explanation of what falls under the umbrella term of “contact”. To say that an entire restaurant should be closed because an infected person ate there seems short sighted. Many restaurants have different shift workers who wouldn’t have been exposed to the customer. Seating capacity varies substantially in Knoxville restaurants. Would every customer who was in the restaurant at the same time be contacted and told to quarantine as well? If the infected person went into a gas station and browsed and stood in a line and stayed inside for more than 15 minutes then would every customer there need to quarantine? A balance has to be found. People are less likely to self report when there are undefined terms and consequences.

  6. About three weeks ago, after hiking around Ijams, I drove home up Sevier Ave, along Gay St, and through the Old City on Central. At all the outdoor venues and on the sidewalks were many people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and closely walking past each other with almost no one wearing masks. It seemed clear then that people were behaving as if the pandemic was over and it was easy to predict what is happening now. Local and state governments mostly want to provide “suggestions,” trusting that the citizenry will do the right thing. Well, many are not doing the right thing. I’m happy to read that local small businesses are taking it very seriously and trying to be proactively responsible but it’s going to take more than that to quash this thing.

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