Memphis, Shelby County restaurants prepare to enter phase 1 of reopening

Memphis, Shelby County restaurants prepare to enter phase 1 of reopening

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Health experts and local officials say a decreasing COVID-19 infection rate, along with unused hospital beds in Shelby County, is allowing some businesses to slowly open beginning Monday.

That includes restaurants, which will be allowed to have 50-percent capacity in their dining rooms.

BJ Chester-Tamayo misses seeing her customers inside her restaurant on North Main Street, Alcenia’s.

To connect with her friends and customers, Chester-Tamayo has dedicated herself to her online cooking show recorded on Zoom and posted to YouTube.

“It’s about making people laugh during a hard time. About bringing people together from different nationalities, I’ve even had a guy on one show to perform his little drums from Sweden,” said Chester-Tamayo.

Despite struggling financially, Chester-Tamayo will not be opening her restaurant dining room Monday when Phase One of the “Back to Business” plan allows restaurants to seat half their capacity.

“I cannot survive by takeout alone. So if I won’t let people come in and sit down, you got to see how serious that is,” said Chester-Tamayo.

Alcenia’s isn’t the only restaurant not opening their dining room Monday.

Several restaurant owners WMC Action News 5 spoke to said they believe it’s too soon and they plan to use a “wait and see” approach.

“To me it’s not time to open. It’s too serious,” said Chester-Tamayo.

“The ability to go out into public doesn’t mean you have to go out into public,” said Dr. Jon McCullers, UTHSC.

Health officials say the number of COVID-19 cases in Shelby County has been steadily decreasing for weeks and now is the right time to begin safely phasing in the reopening of businesses like restaurants.

But they also warn those with the highest risk to continue staying at home.

“If you have health conditions, or you’re 80 years old, I would not be going out into the restaurants right now. I would be staying home and protecting yourself,” said McCullers.

Chester-Tamayo and several other restaurant owners across Shelby County are choosing to be extra cautious and hope when they do open, it doesn’t contribute to making the pandemic worse.

“I would tell everybody to be safe and to really be careful because this is real. And it’s not about taking your freedom away, it’s about saving your life," said Chester-Tamayo.

Chester-Tamayo says she doesn’t know when she will feel comfortable opening her dining room, but she believes they will be practicing social distancing at Alcenia’s for a long time when they do.

To watch her cooking show, click here.

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