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: 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: 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: 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.
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.