Restaurants re-open to crowds in a delicious return to normalcy

Published 8:01 am Wednesday, May 6, 2020

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LAPLACE – Last week, the recently re-opened LaPlace Frostop saw a record-breaking 799 orders of onion rings. A typical week sees approximately 400 onion ring orders, and owner Jimmie Toler said business has nearly doubled as the St. John the Baptist community yearns for a return to normalcy.

Restaurants are beginning to re-open weeks after shutting their doors for coronavirus concerns, and LaPlace Frostop isn’t the only one seeing an increase in business. While dine-in service remains closed, the community has eagerly supported local business with to-go orders.

A line of cars stretched from The Donut Hole to Jacob’s Andouille Saturday morning, just one day after the acclaimed breakfast spot re-opened to the public. The excitement extended beyond parish lines. Taste of Tokyo in Destrehan saw record lunch orders and an overwhelming dinner rush immediately after re-opening their doors on May 1.

In times like these, LaPlace Frostop’s walk-up order windows have become useful tools.

“When it was built in 1958, our restaurant did not have a dining room,” Toler said. “We had windows for outside service, and it’s working well. We have an order window, we have a pick-up window and we have a separate window for phone orders to pick up, so it allows us to keep our customers away from one another.”

LaPlace Frostop also has lines marked outside to encourage social distancing, and Toler said customers have easily adapted to these new regulations.

“Not only are they abiding by it, but they are doing it very well,” he said. “More and more customers are coming out with a face mask on, which is nice because we are required by law to wear one when we are facing the customers. This is our third week to be back open, and business has been tremendous.”

The recent three-week closure is the longest the lights have been shut off at Frostop since Toler took over the family business in 1973. The restaurant has bounced back quickly from hurricanes and a major remodeling that took place many years ago.

The only difference now, according to Toler, is that drinks are being served in to-go cups instead of Frostop’s classic frosted mug.

“We’re probably the longest operating restaurant in St. John Parish since opening in 1958. We’ve seen two or three generations of families. We’re a trusted, standby business in the community,” Toler said.

Some restaurants, such as Sicily’s Italian Buffet in LaPlace, have gone the extra mile to support the community. Sicily’s recently initiated a Front-line Food Drive to feed workers at St. James Parish Hospital and Ochsner Health Center, as well as St. John Parish firefighters.

In the early days of social distancing, Sicily’s started selling $40 gift cards for half price. Restaurant owner Randy Delatte said the response was so overwhelming that it had to be discontinued, though he quickly looked to other ways to satisfy the pent-up community demand.

In recent weeks, Sicily’s has used an online ordering platform for carry-out. Rather than just offering pizza, carry-out has diversified to include daily special such as fried chicken, lasagna and side dishes. Delatte said the restaurant also plans to explore large-scale catering in the near future.

“It’s been kind of a wake-up call for us to diversify how we’re doing business since losing the ability to offer the dining room buffet right now,” Delatte said.

Once Louisiana and St. John the Baptist Parish move to a phase one reopening, Delatte expects indoor dining service will be limited to 25 percent capacity. While it is uncertain how buffets will operate, Delatte noted that Mississippi is moving to cafeteria-style service rather than having customers serve themselves.

Another highlight the River Parishes community can look forward to is the re-opening of outdoor dining areas at Middendorf’s Manchac this Friday, May 8. The restaurant closed for safety concerns on March 28 but will now be open on Tuesdays for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re really ready to welcome our customers and staff back in Manchac,” said Middendorf’s Owner Horst Pfeifer. “It’s the first step to getting back to some kind of normal. It’s been tough for everyone. We’re just glad that we can get back to work and start serving-up lots of hot, crispy thin fried catfish again.”

State Fire Marshal Chief H. “Butch” Browning recently released guidelines for restaurant/food service outdoor seating. According to Browning, required spacing of groups, limiting concentration of people, strict use of personal protective equipment and frequent sanitizing are among the mitigation standards restaurants with patio venues must follow to restrict the spread of COVID-19.

Outdoor capacity must be reduced to 25 percent of what is typically allowed by the State Fire Marshal. Tables are to be spaced a minimum of 10 feet apart from each other, with table groups limited to 10 individuals or less.

Use of open areas and temporary tents for outdoor seating is subject to local or parish rules and ordinances. If using a tent, at least 2/3 of the sides must be open.

Browning modified the guidelines on April 30 to reflect a capacity of 60 square feet per person of the gross area for open areas and temporary tents instead of the previously recommended 110 square feet per person.

Restaurant employees are required to wear face coverings while working with the public, according to Governor John Bel Edwards’ revised Stay at Home order and guidance from the Louisiana Department of Health. Employees should also wear gloves while preparing and serving food, taking care to change gloves between customers.