Atlanta bar finds a new way to do business in pandemic

As the pandemic began to hit the U.S. hard in early March, the staff of Elmyr restaurant and bar in Atlanta's Little Five Points community braced for the worst.

Richard Morris has been the bar manager here for 12 years.

"We closed up March 17th, St. Patrick's Day," Morris says.  "That's the last day people sat at the bar in here."

Regular customers Jason and Dottie Lindsey watched as restaurant after restaurant closed.

"It was a definite change for a lot of people, not being able to go out, not being able to get out of your house," Jason Lindsey says.

After shuttering the bar for a week, the staff of Elmyr came up with a plan.

They would reopen, using a to-go window, keeping customers on the outside, staff on the inside.

"For a long time, we would just kind of stand around, but everyone would keep their distance," Dottie Lindsey says.

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Morris tried to keep as much distance as possible between their guests and the staff.

"Instead of personally taking their money with our hands, their credit card, we had grabbing instruments to do that with," he says.

They even started cleaning the money coming in, using sanitizer.

There was one scare: a staffer tested positive early on.

"Everyone went and got tested, and everyone was fine," Morris says.  "But, we did close because we were really concerned, and we did clean again."

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, restaurants and delis rank sixth on a list of settings tied to the most local outbreaks, with eateries connected to 120 clusters of cases, as of late November.

The pandemic has been hard on restaurants nationwide.

Nearly 1 in 6 US restaurants has closed either permanently or long-term, according to a September survey released by the National Restaurant Association.

Almost 9 months after it briefly closed at the beginning of the pandemic, Elmyr is still open.

"I feel like we've been doing it long enough now that this is normal for us," Morris says.

The bar's door is back open, with customers lining up outside the restaurant to enter and place their orders one at a time.

"The mask is imperative," Morris says.  "We are requiring masks. We have some menus outside printed as you're waiting in line.  If you're in a group of 2 or 3, maybe you all enter at once, and you order. Everything is to-go."

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If you want to hangout, they've made a change for that, adding outdoor seating on a porch and in a nearby parking lot.

"The main thing is to be not having a lot of people together inside," Morris says.  "That seems to be what's making all the numbers rise."

With COVID-19 infections surging nationally, the CDC is urging Americans to avoid "non-essential" indoor and crowded outdoor spaces, singling out indoor restaurant dining as particularly high-risk.

"As you're eating or drinking, you obviously can't do that wearing a mask," microbiologist Dr. Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., says.

She says her family has found a way to support their favorite restaurants while staying as safe as possible.

"We do a lot of takeout, a lot of curbside pickup, or even going inside to pick up our meal and then we eat it in the parking lot in our truck," Schmidtke says.  "I mean, it's a weird time.  But it's what we try to do to support the businesses and especially the restaurants that we really love, and we want to survive this pandemic."

With the cold weather setting in, Rich Morris says the winter will be hard on Elmyr, but their customers, he has learned, are pretty hardcore.

"I think a lot of these people will want to hang out in their parkas and scarves," he smiles.  "I hope we're going to get some heaters, too."

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