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PORTLAND, Maine — Wearing a tiger-print facemask, Maisie Colby wiped down four picnic tables staggered six feet apart from one another on a stretch of cobblestones outside Portland Mash Tun in the city’s Old Port.
The bistro would open its doors in half an hour and the stretch of Wharf Street, an almost riotously busy throughway in usual times, was barren. Colby was the only member of the waitstaff working Monday’s dinner service, the first of any in Portland in more than 10 weeks.
“Obviously, there’s more precautions now,” Colby said, adding that waiting tables while wearing a mask was “kind of a nuisance,” but she feels safe.
Scattered restaurants in the heart of Portland’s Old Port — the heart of the food capital of Maine — reopened for outdoor dining Monday, as Gov. Janet Mills continued to slowly lift restrictions in Androscoggin, Cumberland and York counties under the state’s phased plan to reopen the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Restaurants in other parts of the state were permitted to open for dine-in service on May 18, but Mills held back reopenings in the counties with elevated reports of community transmissions of the virus. An earlier plan would have allowed them to open for dine-in service on June 1, but state officials revised that last week after cases spiked over Memorial Day weekend.
The Mash Tun experience was barebones. Colby worked the outdoor tables while owner Curtis Campbell was behind the bar indoors, serving drinks and cooking the restaurant’s menu of elevated pub fare — burgers, tacos, fries and grilled cheese. Campbell and Colby aside, the only time anyone entered Mash Tun would be when a patron darted in to use its single bathroom.
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They both would take the names and contact info of patrons for tracing, per state guidelines. Campbell said that the restaurant had met all of them, and was “ready for the public, for sure” — though some things were still in the air. The task of checking IDs and seeing out-of-state licenses was “awkward,” he said, and he didn’t know where the boundary was for asking if patrons had observed the 14-day quarantine.
After a city council vote last month, Portland blocked off certain Old Port streets for restaurants to expand services onto public common areas like sidewalks and streets. A block up the road from Mash Tun, Matt Siviski was the sole patron at Petite Jacqueline, enjoying a glass of rose while looking over some work at a streetside two-top.
Siviski, a Portland resident, said it was “nice to finally get out and about,” but that it made sense to him that the city would open later than the rest of the state given its higher rate of infections.
“I wouldn’t want to be making decisions in the governor’s office right now,” he said.
Michelle Trivino, the restaurant’s general manager, said that she and others were disappointed to abruptly learn last week that they could not allow patrons inside, but they were happy to get back to work. The restaurant received a federal loan and brought most of its staff back, though only servers would work the dining station on Monday.
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Portland Lobster Company’s operations are designed for outdoor dining and takeout, making the Commercial Street seafood spot well-equipped for the pandemic. They opened their patio for lunch at 11 a.m. to a steady lunch wave of patrons, about half wearing face masks.
The eatery was operating at about half the strength than a typical Monday in June, said general manager Ethan Morgan. Servers took on additional cleaning responsibilities of the open-air dining room. A new group of food runners delivered plates to patrons after they placed orders at a window equipped with a plexiglass shield. New hires have been brought in to clean, relieving servers of the task of sanitizing the low-ventilation restrooms while serving customers.
Morgan said that the crew plans to use this week as a trial run, tweaking operations as the days and, presumably, business picks up.
“Anything we don’t get right today we’ll do our best to fix tomorrow,” he said. “Thank God it’s Monday.”
Watch: Janet Mills announces changes to June 1 reopening phase