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Customers return to bars and restaurants

Vincent Webb serves Kelsey Rogers a plate of grilled shrimp, chicken and steak with onions, mushrooms and bell peppers over rice — the lindos special — at Carlos Cantina in Iron Mountain. (Brian Christensen/Daily News photos)

Local restaurants Friday were able to let customers dine in for the first time in more than two months as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relaxed some of the restrictions put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.

The new order, issued Monday, allowed retail businesses, offices, bars and restaurants in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan to open for limited indoor service.

Bars and restaurants have to limit capacity to 50%. Groups must stay 6 feet apart, and servers will have to wear face coverings.

The loosening of restrictions came just in time for the start of the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

By late Friday morning, customers already were lining up outside Carlos Cantina in downtown Iron Mountain.

The Aranda family in their restaurant, Carlos Cantina in Iron Mountain. From left, Reyes Aranda and his children, Ruby Oratch, Daniel Aranda and Carlos Aranda.

“That was tough. The shutdown made it tough for us,” Carlos Cantina manager Daniel Aranda said of the weeks in which only carryout, curbside or delivery orders could be taken.

But, thanks to a loyal customer base, the Aranda family was able to make ends meet even under those limitations.

“We had enough (sales) to keep the wheels going,” Aranda said. “We stayed positive, and we actually took the time to remodel and change things.”

The Arandas painted the restaurant’s interior, replaced a wood floor with tile, installed chandeliers, removed a brass railing and replaced it with a dividing wall to give customers more privacy.

Tables now are spaced 6 feet apart to maintain social distancing.

“We did a lot of cleaning,” Aranda said. “Scrubbed everything down and tried to organize the best we could.”

Now, the cantina will be open for sit-down service from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Each are available upon request and are sanitized between uses.

For a hands-free menu, the Arandas posted QR codes at every table. Customers who prefer not to handle menus — which are sanitized regularly — instead can scan the code with their smartphone to view appetizers, soups, salads and entrees.

Aranda and one of his cooks have received COVID-19 foodservice training and trained their fellow co-workers. All employees are wearing masks and will have their temperature taken before shifts, Aranda said.

Dean Poquette, manager at Solberg’s Greenleaf Sports Bar and Grill in Iron Mountain, also called the shutdown a challenge, though he was pleased to see employees remained positive.

“We offered guests the same premium service,” Poquette said.

Solberg’s had closed at 7:30 p.m. during the shutdown but has since resumed regular business hours — 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The full-service sports bar has made several changes as well to accommodate customers during the ongoing pandemic.

“We think customers will be pleased with the changes,” Poquette said, adding the business has been “extremely proactive.”

Staff members took COVID-19 foodservice training, Poquette said, and new tables allow more space between patrons and between tables to maintain social distancing. Dividing walls have been installed between sections for more privacy as well.

Customers can wait for tables outside or in their vehicles. They will be notified by text message when a table is available.

“We’re looking forward to seeing our guests again,” Poquette said. “Our friends, really.”

The Randville Bar and Grill on M-95 opened at half-capacity Friday, though regular business hours have not been established, co-owner Debbie Pucci said.

“It’d be best to call ahead,” she recommended.

The bar still offers gas and groceries as well as beer, wine and ice, Pucci said.

Brian Christensen can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 229, or bchristensen@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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