‘A Very Warm, Fun Feeling’: Restaurants Rejoice, Reopen Dining for First Time Since November


Gov. Jay Inslee’s largely-unexpected announcement last week that the West and Puget Sound regions would move into Phase 2 of his reopening plan after the weekend gave restaurants a few days to prepare and get the word out.

So, did hungry locals show up Monday morning? 

“Oh gosh yes,” Judy McCann, of Judy’s Country Kitchen, said. 

At 9:30 a.m., she described the diner full of thrilled customers. 

“They’re all cheery and excited and happy to be able to eat in,” she said. “It’s a very warm, fun feeling right now.”

Up the street, at O’Blarney’s Irish Pub, Morgan Malloy said staff had been waiting for the announcement for weeks. 

“Our staff is very excited and we’re ready to see some hungry, happy, wanting-to-drink faces,” Malloy said.

She spent Friday telling customers that they could finally eat inside after the weekend, instead of getting takeout or sitting under the restaurant’s tent outside. Other restaurants took to Facebook to spread the word and drum up crowds. 

“Woohoo! We can’t wait to see you all next week for limited indoor dining,” a post from Dawn’s Delectables in Centralia read.

Even with all the excitement, O’Blarney’s plans on keeping its outdoor tents up, just in case infections surge and the county swings back into Phase 1, prohibiting indoor dining again. Along with new metrics, Inslee also announced that regions would be evaluated by the state on a two-week basis, instead of a weekly basis, hopefully minimizing whiplash caused by counties bouncing back and forth between phases. 

While many took the announcement as good news, some lawmakers criticized Inslee, calling the reopening metrics arbitrary and saying the easing of restrictions doesn’t do enough for Washingtonians, about half of which are still in Phase 1. 

“While this is very good news for Southwest Washington counties like Lewis, Thurston, and Grays Harbor, it reinforces the arbitrary and subjective basis for the governor’s reopening plan,” Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, said in a statement last week. 

District 19 Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, offered a similar critique, pointing to the fact that his legislative district is now split into constituents allowed to eat indoors and constituents who are prohibited from doing so locally. 

Inslee said the decision to move some regions forward despite concerns of more contagious COVID-19 variants spreading in the U.S. was partially informed by the state’s ramped-up vaccination efforts, as well as a “quite significant” decline in transmission state-wide.

“We certainly like our progress we’ve recently made bringing down COVID activity,” he said Thursday. “And so these are some promising signs we’re headed in the right direction.”

It’s good news not just for owners and residents itching to socialize, but for employees now able to pick up more hours. Minutes after announcing they would offer indoor dining this week, O’Blarney’s also posted a job opening to their Facebook. At Judy’s Country Kitchen, McCann confirmed that she was able to bring six employees back onboard, while Tim Filer, owner of McFiler’s in Chehalis, said indoor dining will allow him to offer more hours. 

“I have a few staff members who are only working literally four hours a week or something,” Filer said Friday. “So I’m hoping to bulk everybody’s hours up just enough and spread it evenly among staff.”

Filer is already planning to re-up regular trivia nights and movie nights, and even hopes to book a rock show soon. 

“It’s a breath of fresh air, and it’s nice to know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We get back some sense of normalcy.”