Downtown businesses make outdoor seating accommodations with “parklets”

CHICO — Businesses throughout downtown Chico have begun their latest attempt to increase outdoor dining in the time of a global pandemic.

Ultimately, the new outdoor dining areas, or “parklets”, have allowed businesses to stay open for dine-in while still maintaining government implemented coronavirus guidelines.

On Tuesday, the City of Chico Public Works Department teamed up with Knife River Construction, and Slater and Son Inc. to install safety barriers outside several businesses around the downtown area to accommodate outdoor dining. The barriers were donated by the two companies, in conjunction with the Director of Public Works Brendan Ottoboni.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest ruling makes it mandatory for all dine-in service to be outdoors only, leaving establishments to adjust with alternative solutions. With the donation of cement and plastic barriers and blocks, which are normally used as safety barriers on construction sites, businesses were able to move tables and seating onto areas that are normally used for parking spaces.

On Saturday, Mom’s Restaurant, Madison Bear Garden and Momona all opened its doors to the newly designed seating areas.

At Mom’s, tables were packed full for Saturday morning brunch. The restaurant already features outdoor dining, but the latest seating option has helped both customers and employees alike.

“It’s nice because it’s letting us get more business and get people sat faster,” said Mom’s employee Eli Stanley.

Stanley’s confidence in the safety of the restaurant has not wavered at all, as he sees safety precautions staying up to par.

“Since we have the barriers in from the city it’s been a blessing and hopefully people enjoy it,” he said. “We’ve gotten to clean up the road a little bit. Get more hours, employ more people and keep people happy so it has been great.”

Jake Kanabele was having lunch at Mom’s with his significant other and said he’s confident in the masks and consistent wiping down of the tables at local establishments. For him, seeing the downtown area so empty during the pandemic has been the saddest part.

Over at Momona, server Rowan Wilson was excited to be back to work and seeing people after a two-week break of to-go orders only.

“I do feel safe out here,” Wilson said. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to serve people at a table again, from a mental health standpoint to be able to socialize a little bit.

“Taking the tables out every day is kind of a pain, they’re heavy. We aren’t really well equipped to have easily moveable tables for outside but we’re working on it. It’s definitely been much better for businesses to have this here.”

The city of Chico initially reached out to businesses encouraging them to apply for the temporary permits.

“All businesses went to (Ottoboni) and voiced their concerns and it was very helpful,” said Chrystal Axelsson, owner of Old Barn Kitchen in downtown Chico. “He met with me personally and walked me through the application process which was super helpful.”

As for the application process, Axelsson said for those restaurants already with outdoor seating available, it was pretty simple. The biggest change her business had to make was a couple changes to the restaurant’s insurance to be sure that everything is covered still.

Applications took several weeks to complete, while ideas such as closing off full streets were taken into consideration.

Old Barn Kitchen, 301 Main Street in Chico, is set to open its patio next weekend. Axelsson said that her restaurant is using this weekend to build a temporarily raised patio for guests to enjoy in the outdoors.

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