Local eatery puts health first

Sure, Martha Duarte, owner of Main Street’s Courthouse Café, celebrates the limited re-opening of her popular eatery while enduring the cumbersome restrictions placed on the operation by the state of California and the Lassen County Health Department. She’s happy for the jobs saved and for the customers who can now stop by, grab a table and enjoy a handmade breakfast or lunch. Duarte, the waitress turned restaurant owner turned entrepreneur who survived being completely burned out of the restaurant’s original location a while back even ponders how to expand her business during the new normal days —however and whenever they might get here.

Despite all these positive signs of hope, she takes the county’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, and she said her biggest concern is not the future success of her business — she’s got that under control — it’s the health and safety of her customers and her staff.

“We don’t know what we’re dealing with,” she said, “so we’re being super cautious and sanitizing everything.” The health of our customers and our staff, that’s the most important thing. We want the old people to feel comfortable dining here. We’re still offering curbside service. If you don’t feel comfortable coming in, just call me. I’ll bring your food to the car. It’s not a problem. And we’re still doing delivery for the people who can’t come out of their house yet.”

The safety regimen begins first thing as the employees get their temperature taken upon their arrival for work. The results are recorded on a log sheet.

“They have to wear gloves and masks at all times,” Duarte said. “Everybody does.”

Keeping everything in the building sanitized also is a big part of the health and safety program.

“We don’t have anything on the table,” Duarte said. “We ask every customer what they need, and we take it to the table. As soon as they finish we take it to the back and sanitize it again.”

And they sanitize everything the customer touches before another customer gets seated to that table.

“We’re trying to follow all the guidelines we can find,” Duarte said. “We stayed open through the time there was no dining allowed. We did to go orders and delivery. We did what we had to do to survive at the time.”

She said the first few days were scary because business was very slow.

“We laid off the girls for a week, maybe 10 days,” Duarte said, “and we’ve brought everybody back. We don’t want to lay them off because when you’re ready to open up, you might not have them as employees anymore.”

She said the governor gave Lassen County restaurants the green light to open at 50 percent capacity in an effort to respect social distancing.

“We took six tables out of the dining area,” Duarte said. “ We’re planning a patio. We’re working on that — a patio in front of the building for people to have a little more room … We’re going to have the patio to pick up the tables we lost due to social distancing.”

She said she’s trying to get a permit for the patio from the city, but since Main Street is a state highway Caltrans will probably have to be involved.

“I think we’ll have to get approval from Caltrans,” she said.

Duarte said she doing her best to juggle all these issues during these challenging times.

When asked if running the restaurant with all the new restrictions is working, she paused.

“We’re making it work, how’s that?” Duarte said. “We’re making it work. The girls are getting used to the extra work they have to do. They don’t have as many customers as they used to have, so they can sanitize everything before they take it out there.”

Still, the struggle continues. Labor costs are up — Duarte hired another employee to help with the sanitation.  She’s had trouble with some suppliers and the price of some meat items has increased three fold.

“The price of meat went up to the sky,” Duarte said.

But by facing the challenges head on, it appears Duarte and Courthouse Café may have figured out how to survive this pandemic.

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