The Nyberg siblings toast being able to go to one of their favorite restaurants in the Lewiston-Auburn area — Gritty’s — on Monday, the first day patrons were allowed to dine at local eateries in Androscoggin County. The state rules are strict and only allow outside dining, but the Nybergs were just happy to be able to get out and somewhat back to normal. From left were Mike, Karen and John Nyberg. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

A number of restaurants in Lewiston and Auburn expanded their operations to outdoor dining Monday, the first day allowed under Gov. Janet Mills’ reopening guidelines for Androscoggin, Cumberland and York counties.

Michael Berube, business partner of The Pit Bar and Grill in Lewiston, opened an outside patio for dining Monday and said his restaurant is “following all the rules and getting people back” in an outdoor space designed to keep tables socially distant.

“Come check us out,” Berube said. “Our staff is going to be in full swing.”

Among the other restaurants that opened for outside dining in Lewiston Monday were DaVinci’s Eatery, Pedro O’Hara’s and Sea40 Japanese Cuisine. According to city staff, others approved to open as of Monday were Sonder & Dram, Chick-a-dee of Lewiston, Mother India, Marco’s, Fast Breaks, Grid Iron and Legends.

While some were ready to serve outside Monday, others were still finalizing outdoor seating plans and licensing with the city.

Fish Bones Grill in Lewiston will open its outdoor dining area on Tuesday.

Cowbell Grill and Tap and Luiggi’s, both in Lewiston, were working with the city to get permission. Cowbell owners are hoping to put 12 tables on the Lisbon Street sidewalk, but will not be able to accommodate large parties.

In Auburn, Gritty’s and Gipper’s were among the first to offer outdoor dining Monday.

Staff in Lewiston saw an uptick late last week of restaurant owners working to set up outdoor dining, following the governor’s controversial update.

Denis D’Auteuil, deputy city administrator, said Monday that at least a dozen had outdoor seating licenses approved last week. The city is waiving the usual licensing fees, and D’Auteuil said staff is “turning around responses quickly.”

Due to a shortage of tables and chairs, he said the city is even loaning tables and chairs from its Recreation Department to restaurants “to get them through.”

The City Council recently approved changes that make it easier for businesses to use public right-of-ways like sidewalks or parking areas to set up outdoor dining. The city is still in discussions with downtown business owners over whether some type of street closure could be beneficial to promote outdoor dining and walkability.

Officials have previously mentioned possible closures of downtown Lisbon Street or using Dufresne Plaza for dining. D’Auteuil said Public Works Director Dale Doughty has put together several options for consideration, including using barriers to close off portions of the street. He expects city staff will have more details later this week.

“We’re looking at every option,” he said, adding that staff is working directly with business owners in order to do what works for them.

While the cities are attempting to make the transition to outdoor dining an easy one, David Hediger, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said Monday that separate approvals for liquor licenses are required from both the city and state, which can add to wait times.

“Multiple departments including Planning and Code Enforcement, the City Clerk’s office, Public Works, and police and fire are working to expedite requests,” he said. “We are being flexible with allowing businesses to use their parking lots for seating as long as measures are being taken to keep vehicles and patrons separate. This is only in the businesses’ best interests to ensure the safety of their customers.”

In Auburn, Mayor Jason Levesque sat at Gritty’s early Monday, talking to the owner about additional steps the city could take to expand outdoor dining there.

Levesque said he’s currently working on an idea that would utilize a grassy area between the Gritty’s back patio and the Riverwalk, where customers could wait to be seated or sit on chairs to have a beverage.

Like officials in Lewiston, Levesque said city staff in Auburn have been “moving quickly” to assist businesses.

“Everyone’s hustling around, they’re all over the city talking to restaurants,” he said. The city also still has some funds left from a small business loan program that it rolled out in April, which Levesque said could help business purchase tables and chairs or other items needed to reopen. He planned to go to Gipper’s next, which had set up a small outdoor dining area under a tent in the parking lot Monday.

“There are still places trying to work it out,” Levesque said, adding that for many restaurants, outdoor dining may not fit the business model.

Gritty’s, with a rear patio overlooking the river, was already well-equipped to offer outdoor dining. Others are not so lucky, he said.

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