ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Monday was a big day for restaurants and bars in St. Louis County. It was the first day in nearly seven weeks that they were allowed to resume indoor service under new county health department guidelines.
One restaurant owner in Kirkwood has chosen to keep his dining room closed. Gerard LaRuffa, who owns Club Taco, has filled his restaurant patio with outdoor, heated, clear-plastic igloos, which seat individual groups of customers.
There’s no face-to-face exposure to other customers or even the staff.
There’s about a 10-day wait to reserve an igloo, LaRuffa said.
A few neighboring restaurant owners did welcome indoor customers again, Monday. Mission Taco down the street brought back extra workers for Day 1.
The county’s new restrictions include: only 25 percent of dine-in capacity, stricter mask requirements, no bar seating, 10 p.m. closing time, and customers must provide a phone number or e-mail address for possible contact tracing.
Most restaurants planned to reopen indoor dining at some point later in the week. St. Louis favorite Deweys Pizza, located across the street from Club Taco, planned to do so Tuesday, according to a manager there.
The new restrictions would allow Club Taco only nine indoor customers, so LaRuffa was sticking with the igloos for now.
“[We were] like many other restauranteurs figuring out how we were going to make it through the winter months. My wife showed me these (igloos) on a website. (We) made the difficult decision to purchase them and we haven’t looked back,” LaRuffa said. “As much attention as they’re getting from social media, people are posting videos from inside, we’re going to wait it out. We’ve been very fortunate.”
“I’m glad we’re all open,” said Mary Rose Del Pietro, of another famous St. Louis restaurant family. “It just dominos down to the servers, the cooks, the bartenders. It isn’t just the owners.”
She and her family members were having lunch inside Mission Taco in Kirkwood.
“It’s important to emphasize that we’re able to make this policy change because the numbers are going in the right direction,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Monday. “It’s also important for everyone to understand that indoor dining, even with these protocols, continues to pose substantial risks to employees and patrons alike.”
As for those risks, the igloos offered another advantage, La Ruffa said. Customers only have contact with those in their dining group. Restaurant workers take orders from outside the igloo. They set food and drinks on a small table just inside the igloo door.