In places like Stanwood, Phase 3 gives reason for optimism

Restaurants have welcomed the increased seating capacity, longer alcohol service and larger groups.

STANWOOD — Half-full businesses, imbibing until midnight and dining in big groups are back on the menu.

Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Healthy Washington” reopening plan went into effect on March 22.

In the new stage, indoor business is allowed to operate at 50% capacity. Restaurants are also permitted to seat 10 people per table with no household restrictions and to serve alcohol until 12 a.m.

For local restaurateurs and entrepreneurs, the updated parameters are a reason for optimism, but still leave plenty to be desired.

At Amigo Family Mexican Restaurant in Stanwood, tables dotted the dining room, dance floor and courtyard. Despite state authorization for more seating, owner Jose Amador said his eatery can’t add more tables and still meet the six-feet social distancing requirements.

Phase 3 “doesn’t change anything,” he said.

Amador isn’t complaining, he said he feels blessed for the space the restaurant does have. In the year since restrictions began, Amador said his business has remained afloat thanks to federal Paycheck Protection Program support and a loyal collection of customers built over two decades of service.

When closures shuttered business for months, Amador saw an opportunity to revamp the restaurant. He kept his staff employed helping with the repainting and repairing.

“I am not going to sit there and stomp my feet,” Amador said. “When we open, whoever is the cleanest wins.”

In Phase 3, Amador said he is happy to no longer be tasked with separating big groups. Prior to last week, only six people from two households were permitted to share a table.

However, the hour expansion for serving drinks from 11 p.m. until midnight won’t matter. Amador closes the restaurant by 10 p.m. to avoid unruly patrons.

“The late-night customers that are intoxicated are the ones that have the mask issue, they want to roam the bar freely like a little bee pollinating all the flowers,” he said. “I just don’t want to deal with it right now.”

The extended “last call” has been a blessing a few miles away at Beauty Bar, a salon and lounge in Stanwood that offers food, drinks and karaoke along with typical beauty services.

The business opened in January and stylist Jennifer Mitchell said longer hours are already boosting business.

“It’s been nice for people who are having a good time and don’t really want to have it come to an end,” she said. “People don’t want it to stop, we’ve gone so long without anything going on.”

Plastic partitions divide customers, dancing is prohibited by state guidance and karaoke requires strict sanitation standards. But the singers are commanding the stage once again.

“It’s been really awesome seeing people come out of their shell in a different way,” Mitchell said.

SAAL Brewing Company opened in Stanwood a few months before the pandemic hit. Co-owner Kristine Birkenkopf said increased seating capacity in Phase 3 will help the restaurant move from breaking even to making money.

“Being open for such a short time, we really just want to see what we can do as a business,” she said.

Despite the restrictions, Birkenkopf said there are positives to take away from the last year. She credited the city of Stanwood for offering grants to assist wherever possible, and she said the focus from folks to support local businesses has helped spread the SAAL name.

Still, some rules continue to hamper operations. Bar seating remains outlawed in Phase 3 and Birkenkopf said that means making tough decisions about where to sit solo guests.

“Some of our best customers come in by themselves, but it would kill us to have one person sitting at a table, because that could be a group of four,” she said. “The bar seating takes away a lot of those challenges.”

A timeline for when restrictions may be updated is unclear.

For now, counties will be evaluated on an individual basis to remain in Phase 3.

A county will have to report fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, and weekly hospitalizations rates must also not exceed 5 per 100,000 people. The state Department of Health will review each county’s metrics every three weeks, with the first update coming April 12.

Until then, Stanwood business remained well-aware their services could be shuttered again.

“We would survive,” Birkenkopf said. “I don’t know if there is anything they could do to us at this point that we haven’t seen.”

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448;; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

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