Indoor Dining Resumes and People Gobble It Up

Matt Johnes greets customers inside his Hannah Flanagan’s as the state again allows indoor dining among re-openings. Note the vast space between tables, for social distancing. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas

Hendersonville – Many customers in Hendersonville and across the state felt relieved to be able to dine indoors again after a two-month shutdown, as the statewide easing of restrictions launched into phase two Friday.
Phase two easing of COVID-19 commercial and social restrictions officially began at 5 pm Friday, heading into Memorial Day weekend.
“We’ve been ‘sequestered’ (quarantined) for eight weeks,” a relieved Stephen Goranson said while dining Friday in Hannah Flanagan’s Pub and Eatery in Hendersonville.

Such establishments were ready for the expected rush of customers in restaurants, and those “non-essential” shops also allowed to let customers indoors. Purer pubs and music clubs still cannot have people inside. But bars, breweries and wineries can with a sufficient food-serving license.
In Asheville, some observers were concerned how Wicked Weed on Friday had a long line of at least 50 people — one right after another, most without wearing masks.

Patrons Spread Out

There were no mob lines in smaller Hendersonville. Hannah’s at 300 N. Main St. opened in 1993, and is the veteran and often busiest pub downtown. When reopening indoors Friday, it quickly filled its main room closest to Third Avenue. Indoor diners made reservations — which Hannah’s normally does not take.

Many tables in such eateries are removed to space tables and customers six feet apart both indoors and outside, to abide by social distancing and lessen chance of spreading the contagious COVID-19 virus. The state allows up to 50 percent of fire code capacity in restaurants. In absence of a fire code number, the threshold is 12 or fewer people per 1,000 feet of space if spaced apart.

Hannah’s owner Matt Johnes is reopening indoors initially at half of the state capacity limit — one-fourth of Hannah’s 175-person total in its three rooms. Tables near windows and in the other two rooms were kept empty. Hannah’s filled its four tables outside. Johnes is a Downtown Advisory Committee board member.

Johnes greeted patrons inside the door, wearing a protective mask. His bartenders and other staff also wore masks. Disposable condiment packs are among restaurants’ cleanliness steps.

“It’s amazing” to get to reopen indoors, after serving take-out for weeks, Johnes said. “We’re thankful for the City of Henderson and Henderson County’s support.”

As for the state, he is glad its limits are easing. But on the Hannah Flanagan’s Hendersonville Facebook page, he asked for patrons’ patience and quipped “please direct any complaints to Governor (Roy) Cooper.” This includes for patrons not allowed to order a drink while waiting for a table, and having to wait outside for a table indoors.

Bartender Windie Denison danced with joy, with a cleansing spray inches away. She said it felt the happiest day in three years of working in Hannah’s.

Bartender Brittney Breyare was glowing on Friday, her 31st birthday. “I’m excited. This is where I want to be on my birthday — here with friends. Not sitting at home.” She has worked nine years in local pubs.

Longtime Hannah’s patrons there for indoor re-opening Friday include Debbie Garland. “This feels like home,” Garland said. “These are my friends,” she said, pointing to staff and other regulars. Garland, a cardiac catheter lab tech, has been idled from work.

Sharing Sports Fever

Hannah’s is a sports bar, in large part. Johnes is a strong fan of pro sports in his native Boston area. NASCAR is back on track. Other major sports are planning resumptions. After a hiatus, ESPN resumed Pardon The Interruption with Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon Friday, as if coinciding with phase two in NC

Such programming is an added dose of normalcy, patrons said. “It feels very satisfying,” Keith King said, also of being in familiar Hannah’s. Mike Jordan “110 percent” relishes the festiveness of a pub, tending bar in his native Chicago in the late Eighties.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Dawn Gordon dined outside Hannah’s, when it was not raining. “We’re happy to dine out here” rather than indoors, Mr. Gordon said.

The Gordons said they appreciate that seating is spaced out. Servers periodically changed their protective gloves, Mr. Gordon noted. “They’re sacrificing much, for us” and public health.

Free Meals for Vets

Sacrifice of military veterans was the theme of Memorial Day weekend. In turn, some business owners give year-round discounts to veterans.

Matthew Rogers, Three Chopt Sandwich Shoppe owner, worked alone feeding dozens of veterans on Memorial Day Monday. His restaurant is normally closed that day, but was open for four hours for veterans to come in and get free hotboxed sandwiches. Three Chopt is around the corner from Hannah’s, at 103 Third Avenue East.

“This is my way of honoring my family,” and two ancestors who served in World War II, Rogers said. His father David Barrett Rogers was an Army aerial spotter in Europe. The recon pilot “flew in foggy weather in the Battle of Bulge, telling where the Germans were,” Matthew said. His grandfather Col. Barrett Rogers trained troops in Barrett’s native Milwaukee.

Matthew on Monday prepared for local vets a boxed grilled sandwich of his ancestors’ favorites —- roast beef and turkey (Dearest David) and ham (Bountiful Barrett).

Three Chopt reopened inside on the next day, Tuesday, for the general public.

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