RACINE — Tamara LoPiparo, co-owner of The Maple Table on Monument Square in Downtown Racine, laughed with a regular customer Tuesday afternoon for the first time in two months. LoPiparo joked that she looked like “Darth Vader” while wearing a clear-plastic face shield.
“We missed our customers. We missed our routine,” LoPiparo said.
Tuesday was the first day that The Maple Table and the rest of the City of Racine’s restaurants were legally able to host dine-in guests again; restaurants in the rest of the county have been open since May 13, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the statewide Safer at Home order imposed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Although Tuesday marked one of the first incidences of the city’s order being loosened, the scenes at several city restaurants were anything but normal. Many restaurants have social distancing mandates in place, but each establishment is enforcing rules differently.
LoPiparo and Summer Davis, a new Maple Table employee, wore face shields while LoPiparo’s husband and co-owner, Tony LoPiparo, wore a mask.
Tamara LoPiparo said they “were excited” when they learned last week that they could finally reopen. Even with revenue coming from takeout orders, and after partnering with Meals and Wheels and Dining at a Distance to provide meals for people who can’t travel, business has been down about 85% at The Maple Table.
“We had our best week ever the week before shutdown,” Tamara LoPiparo lamented.
She said they can’t force people to come out to restaurants again, but she assured customers that she believes they will be safe if they eat at The Maple Table.
“It’s up to people (customers) at this point” to ensure social distancing advisories are followed, Tony LoPiparo said.
At DeRango The Pizza King & Premium Chocolates, 1439 Main St., customers who sign a receipt place their pens into a separate receptacle so that the pens can be sanitized before being used by another customer. An almost identical system is in place at The Maple Table, with one bin at the front counter marked “clean pens” next to one marked “dirty pens.”
At Captain John’s Sammys & Such, a sandwich shop at 1240 Main St., as well as at Maple Table, masking tape Xs on the floor mark how far apart customers should stand while waiting in line to place orders.
Captain John’s Owner John Auer said that his business is usually focused on carryout, so it hasn’t felt the damage that other restaurants have experienced. Although customers were allowed to start dining in again on Tuesday at Captain John’s, most have chosen not to, opting to get sandwiches to go rather than sitting at one of the few tables available.
At the iconic Kewpee Sandwich Shop, 520 Wisconsin Ave., owner Rick Buehrens said he has masks available for every employee, but that each worker can decide whether they want to wear them. Only a couple of the dozen or so employees — who were busy during the lunch rush on Tuesday flipping burgers, filling mugs with homemade root beer or frying french fries — wore masks.
Customers at Kewpee’s did remain spaced out, mostly. Customers ordering takeout tended to stand apart from one another. Others ran inside to pick up orders while friends or family waited in cars. The front door was also labeled as an entrance only, with the back secondary door becoming exit only, to reduce the opportunities for people to pass one another in close proximity.
Only a handful of people ate at tables. At the counter, customers were required to stay at least one seat away from one another.
Andrew Long, who has lived in Uptown for most of his life, ate alone at the counter. He said he was “glad” to be back in a restaurant after weeks of that not being an option. “It’s more convenient.”
“It’s kind of nice to be out,” added Corinna Wolter, who is visiting from North Carolina with her husband, Racine native Mike Wolter, for a funeral.
There were some nerves for Buehrens, but he felt confident it was possible to keep his employees and his staff safe with the guidelines they have in place. Kewpee’s hasn’t even been open for takeout in over two months.
“I’m still on a learning curve. We’re still figuring it out,” he said, but added “it’s good to be back doing business.”
“I’m still on a learning curve. We’re still figuring it out. But, it’s good to be back doing business.” Rick Buehrens, owner of Kewpee Sandwich Shop
“I’m still on a learning curve. We’re still figuring it out. But, it’s good to be back doing business.”
Rick Buehrens, owner of Kewpee Sandwich Shop
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.