Denny's patio dining

Denny’s Server Lily Garcia (right) serves hamburgers to Ray and Hope Antasak on Monday outside the restaurant. Local governments across New Mexico are offering incentives for outdoor seating.

   The Española Planning and Zoning Department is offering local restaurants the option to  temporarily add or expand outdoor seating amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    The July 13 order by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham limits restaurants because of a recent uptick in the coronavirus spread. The order prohibits indoor restaurant dining and allows for 50 percent capacity for outdoor dining, takeout and delivery.

    Restaurant owners can go to the Planning Department and get a COVID-19 Restaurant Expansion Application. There is no fee for the application. The application allows owners to temporarily expand their restaurant into their parking lot area.

    City Planner Alison Gillette said several businesses in town have taken advantage of this business opportunity. She said they have approved outdoor seating so far for Big Dawgs Cafe, La Cocina and Denny’s.

    “We want businesses to stay open and be able to maintain their businesses,” Gillette said.

    Once the application is completed, officials will look at the restaurant location and dimensions versus the proposed outdoor seating location and dimensions. They will also review the current parking spaces to make sure that is not adversely affected.

    Parking is based on square footage, Gillette said. She said they will review their business permit to make sure that is up-to-date. They will also review tables to ensure the tables are 6 feet apart.

    Planning Director Richard Hubler said the no fee permit allows the city to review the restaurant’s site plan and to review parking and fire lanes and emergency exits.

    Gillette said the Fire Marshall will also conduct an inspection to ensure no emergency exits or fire lanes are blocked.

    “We are promising a very quick turnaround on these things,” Hubler said. “We want to do everything we can to help our businesses be successful during this challenging time.”

    She said they are following the lead of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department Alcoholic Beverage Control which has created a quick application to allow restaurants who already serve alcohol to expand their alcohol service to outside. There is no fee either to expand liquor service outdoors.

    “We kind of took inspiration from that,” Gillette said. “We are totally excited, we just want to make sure everything is in line with our codes.”

    “When the governor closed us down again the second time, the first time was bad enough, the second time has been a bit too much,” Big Dawgs Owner Sennie Quintana said. “We decided we had to do something. We can’t just make it on carry-outs.”

    She said the impact to their restaurant has been huge. She could not say how big the impact was but did say she is not sure how much longer they will be able to stay open.

    “If (the pandemic) goes too much longer, we are probably going to end up closing,” she said.

    The business has been in the family for the last 30 years. She hopes by adding a canopy and four tables outside, that business will improve.

    Quintana said she did not know how to proceed with expanding but she said city officials were quick to respond, to help and to issue the permit. She said she received her permit by July 15 and had tables set up and a canopy installed that afternoon.

    She said she is confident that they are following all the COVID-19 safe practices. She said their restaurant just went through a COVID inspection with the New Mexico Department of Health Environmental Department on July 13.

    A spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of Health Department did not return calls for comment by press time.

    Quintana said the inspection was extensive and held via FaceTime. They verified that the restaurant did not have items on the tables, like salt and pepper shakers, and that plastic menus were not being used. She said they confirmed that the restaurant installed plastic plexiglass in front of the cashier.

    Even though the inside of the restaurant is closed, they viewed the counter-tops and dining areas, she said. They even looked at the temperatures inside their refrigerators and freezers. Quintana said they are diligently cleaning and wearing masks per the COVID-19 safe guidelines.

    Restaurant owners interested in expanding their restaurant can call Gillette at 747-6082 or can go to the Planning Department at 405 N. Paseo De Oñate for more information. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division can be reached at 476-4875.

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