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Typically, by about 12:15 p.m., Dalton's Oakwood Cafe would pretty well be packed. But on Thursday, only about a quarter of the tables had someone sitting at them. Just a few yards away, at Cherokee Brewing + Pizza Company, only about a dozen people sat eating pizza.
A drive by other downtown restaurants showed lunchtime crowds seemed to be down just about everywhere.
Local restaurant owners blame concern about the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
The President's Coronavirus Guidelines for America notes that "it is critical that you do your part to slow the spread of the coronavirus," adding that individuals should "avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts — use drive-thru, pickup or delivery options."
The governors of 23 states — including California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York — have barred restaurants from offering on-site dining. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has not only not closed restaurants, he is encouraging Georgians to support local businesses, including restaurants.
Still, members of Dalton's restaurant industry say the virus has put a chill on their business.
"It has affected us exponentially," said Kasey Carpenter, owner of the Oakwood and Cherokee. "In-house restaurant sales are down about 40%. Catering is down about 90%. That puts us globally down about 60%."
With in-restaurant business down, owners are looking at other ways to attract customers.
Carpenter, for instance, has recently started curbside pickup as well as delivery to anywhere in Whitfield County.
"The curbside service had actually been in the works. We were just waiting for me to get done at the Capitol. But I guess there's no time like the present," said Carpenter, who represents District 4 in the state House of Representatives.
"And since we already have catering vehicles, we thought we might as well start delivering as well," he said.
Carpenter said he expects the curbside service will remain even after the virus situation has passed.
"That was something we were moving to anyway," he said. "Delivery? Who knows? We'll probably continue it for a month or two. When catering picks back up, it will be difficult to be there at lunch. But if it's popular we may continue it at dinner."
T.J. Kaikobad, owner of Cyra’s – Simple Goodness, said he has "seen a tremendous loss of revenue."
Kaikobad said Cyra's has responded by embracing "social distancing," creating physical space between people.
He said all tables are set 6 feet apart, the distance the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends individuals keep between them to reduce the chances of spreading the virus.
The restaurant has also placed hand sanitizer throughout the restaurant and has adopted single-use menus that are discarded after they are used.
"We are also offering free delivery," Kaikobad said. "We are doing curbside pickup and of course carryout."
The Chop Shop has started offering free deliveries on orders of $25 or more anywhere within 10 miles of its location on Cuyler Street. It is also offering curbside service.
"We've got very few people who want to come in now," said manager Josa Rodriguez.
Lisa Metcalf, owner of Lisa's Cafe and Catering, has also adopted curbside pickup.
"We do have some customers who don't want to get out and come in now," she said. "We will keep this up as long as we have to."
Metcalf said there are still some customers who come in to eat.
"We have been busy, not as busy as we normally are, but busy," she said.
Who is still dining out?
Frank Armstrong was dining recently at the Subway on Thornton Avenue.
"I work in this area and eat here every now and then," he said. "You have to be careful — wash your hands, stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing. But you can't just stay inside 24 hours a day."
Dalton Mayor David Pennington said he still dines out and is disappointed to see so few people.
"I was at (Cyra's) Tuesday, took some city people down there," he said. "We were the only people in the restaurant. I go to the Oakwood every morning. Normally, there's a bunch of people on the side I sit on. Now, I'm the only one on that side. This is hysteria. I don't deny that vulnerable people need to self-quarantine — the elderly, people with heath conditions. but the rest of us don't."