Bea Mathieu, left, and her daughter Nicole Mathieu eat in Rolly’s Diner in Auburn on Wednesday. Rolly’s has been open for outdoor dining for several weeks, but Wednesday was the first day that indoor dining was allowed by the state. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Ken Blais, owner of Rolly’s Diner on Mill Street in Auburn, said that when Gov. Janet Mills ordered all restaurants and bars to close to the public in mid-March due to COVID-19, it was an abrupt disruption to the daily routines of his customers.

“We’re a normal part of people’s day,” Blais said. “A lot of our customers start their day at Rolly’s with breakfast. When we closed, we interrupted that routine.”

Mills announced on Monday that due to new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations stabilizing in Cumberland, Androscoggin and York counties, restaurants, bars, breweries, tasting rooms in those three counties could reopen to dine-in customers as long as they meet certain restrictions and safety standards, such as allowing only 50 people in one room at a time and staying 6 feet apart, whether inside or outside.

On Wednesday morning, Rolly’s Diner joined many other restaurants in Androscoggin County in reopening their doors, though Blais said the trick moving forward is “letting people know we’re back.”

“I think it’ll get busier over time,” he said.

Blais said the diner instituted outdoor dining three weeks ago and curbside pickup two weeks prior to that, and while it has helped Rolly’s stay afloat, it “wouldn’t have been sustainable.”

“We’re a place that’s based on socializing, so while outdoor dining and curbside pickup is helpful, we really needed to reopen,” Blais said.

Kristina Shorey takes an order to the dining room at Governor’s Restaurant in Lewiston on Wednesday morning. Wednesday was the first day that restaurants could serve food in their dining rooms after public health measures were eased. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

To meet the standards put in place by the state, Blais said the staff went with a minimalist interior décor.

“Usually, we’re pretty decked out inside, but we decided to get rid of as much as we could to make it easier to clean tables and sanitize,” Blais said. “We got rid of the salt and pepper shakers on the table. We also had mandatory employee training to make sure everyone knew what to do.”

At Governor’s Restaurant on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, Assistant General Manager Troy Mills said he received “about 30 phone calls to see if we were opening” after Gov. Mills announced that restaurants in Androscoggin County could reopen to dine-in customers.

“We only had two days to get ready to open up again, but we were able to make it work,” Mills said.

He said the staff removed every other booth in the restaurant to create a 6-foot buffer between customers.

“It was easier to just remove the booths rather than put up signs telling people they can’t sit there,” Mills said. “We’re following all the rules the governor set in place. All six locations of Governor’s Restaurant in Maine are big on following the rules.”

While there were just a couple customers in the restaurant Wednesday morning, Mills anticipated “a very busy weekend.”

Rebecca Poirier, bar manager at DaVinci’s on Mill Street in Lewiston, said that while business was decent as of Wednesday afternoon, she expects the number of people to increase during the dinner rush and on weekends.

“Also, we’re in patio season right now, so it’s hard to judge how good business is with dine-in right now,” Poirier said. “We have a lot of people eating outside rather than inside.”

She said DaVinci’s staff has moved tables 6 feet apart and wears masks, gloves, and uses hand sanitizer.

“We’re following all of the guidelines set by the state,” she added.

Lotus Restaurant on Center Street in Auburn, which introduced outdoor dining last week, reopened to customers Wednesday. One change is the staff stands behind each buffet station and places the food on the plate for the customers to prevent direct contact with the food.

While many local restaurants and pubs decided to reopen Wednesday, some are erring on the side of caution.

Adam Platz, marketing coordinator for The Pub at Baxter on Mill Street in Lewiston, said it started seating people in its outdoor patio last week and “saw a good level of success with that.”

“I’m sure many restaurant owners are breathing a big sigh of relief right now to hear they can seat people indoors,” Platz said. “We’re in a unique situation where we have our patio and we’ve had great weather, so we’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing and use the indoor space as an insurance policy.”

“If it rains out, we’ll be able to seat people indoors, but we want to make sure we’re directing people to our patio first,” Platz said. “We’ll continue to ease our way into opening up, but we’re not going to blow the doors open and have people running inside yet.”

Jim Raffel, who has owned and operated Arby’s restaurants in Auburn, Augusta and Portland for the past 41 years, said he won’t open his Auburn and Portland locations yet.

“I’m evaluating the situation,” Raffel said. “It’s a tough decision. I’m starting to lean towards next week, but it all depends on if it’s safe and what the virus numbers look like in a week.”

Raffel said he’s also taking his employees’ feelings into consideration before making a final decision.

“I know it makes some of my employees nervous to reopen, so it comes down to (whether they’re) comfortable doing it,” Raffel said.

He said his Augusta store has been open since June 1, and while it has gone smoothly, “we’re having trouble getting our customers to wear masks.”

“I know we’re going to have to open at some point,” Raffel said. “In Auburn, I had 10 calls the other day asking if we were reopening. We have a lot of regulars at our Auburn store, but it comes down to whether it’s safe or not.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.