MATTHEWS — Town leaders plan on allowing restaurants to serve food at bar areas as long as customers follow social distancing and other safety guidelines.
Mecklenburg County’s restrictions on alcohol and food sales went into effect July 23 after videos of crowded nightlife venues in Charlotte were shared on social media. Charlotte, Matthews, Mint Hill, Pineville and Davidson signed on to the agreement. Mint Hill and Pineville have since amended proclamations to allow eating at bar areas.
Matthews Mayor John Higdon believed the intent was good with the original proclamation, but he said there were unintended consequences for restaurants with large bar areas, such as Beantown Tavern and Jekyll & Hyde Taphouse and Grill.
“I think it would be a help to businesses that are struggling,” Higdon said during the council Aug. 10 meeting. “I can not come up with a logical argument that says you can eat at a table if you socially distance, but you can’t sit at a bar if you socially distance.”
Frank La Fragola Jr., managing partner of Jekyll & Hyde, explained to the town council Aug. 10 that restaurants generally operate at a 5% to 10% profit margin.
La Fragola noted how COVID-19 restrictions are already affecting his business by requiring restaurants to operate at 50% capacity. Losing the entire bar on top of that is extremely rough, La Fragola added.
He described Jekyll & Hyde as a cocktail bar, not a rowdy bar, with most of the customers between the ages of 35 and 45. They also serve families.
“I feel like the Matthews restaurants are being punished by something that happened uptown,” he said.
He encouraged Matthews leaders to pass an ordinance similar to what Mint Hill did.
Commissioner Dave Bland had some reservations about the measure.
“I feel we have a responsibility to look after the safety, health and well being of the citizens,yet if we dont put in some kind of enforcement measure, I don’t know what in the world to do,” Bland said. “It puts a lot of responsibility on these business owners to enforce the rules. That’s tough for them to do.”
Matthews Police Chief Clark Pennington said violating the restrictions is a second-degree misdemeanor.
“This is all complaint-driven obviously, but we are going to educate, reinforce and then cite,” Pennington said.
Higdon asked if council members had any major heartburn with him amending the proclamation, but no one else expressed any concerns.