Anchorage suspends restaurant dining, bar service

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz at a COVID-19 press conference March 12. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has banned dine-in service for food and drinks at restaurants, bars and breweries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The order also closes gyms, bingo halls and theaters, and it bans gatherings of more than 50 people.

“These closures are consistent with CDC recommendations and with our strategy of doing what we can to reduce the possibility of transmitting COVID-19,” Berkowitz said in a news release. “As a friend told me, ‘It will be impossible to know if we overreacted or did too much, but it will be quite apparent if we underreacted or did too little.’”

The ban does not apply to grocery stores. It took effect Monday at 5 p.m. and lasts until the end of March.

Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop owner Janis Fleischman is moving many of her bakers to night shift and limiting customers at each bakery to three at a time – among several actions she taking to avoid transmission of the coronavirus. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Restaurants are not completely shut down. They can still provide to-go, pick-up, drive-through and delivery orders.

Some local businesses were already taking steps to adapt to the times.

At Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, the customer chairs were removed Saturday night, essentially converting all three of the Anchorage locations to take-out only. Owner Janis Fleischman is also switching more than half of the 22 bakers to night shifts.

“This will help keep our baking staff — give them more social distance between them and another baker,” Fleischman said last week. “And also they will then be completely away from any transmission across the counter, from customers.”

Fleischman had already switched to single-use dishes for soup and coffee, and moved the milk and sugar to behind the counter so that customers don’t have to touch the containers.

“If someone chooses to pay with cash, we put gloves on,” she said.

Fleischman plans to put up signs that say only three customers can be in the shop at a time, to allow for social distance. She said people can also place an order by phone and staffers will bring it to them in the parking lot.

Fleischman said the mayor’s order came as a relief, but it’s a sad time. She’s had to tell her part-time workers that she has no shifts for them. She said she’s trying to keep her core staff employed.

Fire Island asked customers for patience last week as they changed their practices to avoid transmission of the coronavirus. The bakery later removed all their chairs to prevent customers from dining in, a day ahead of the city ban on in-restaurant meal service. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Matt Tomter took a different approach. He runs Matanuska Brewing Company, which has three brewpubs in Anchorage and Eagle River, and a brewery in Palmer. He laid off 147 employees as of 5 p.m. Monday, allowing them to file for unemployment benefits.

He plans to bring some of them back to help with to-go orders and deliveries.

“Let everybody know, ‘Hey, takeout and delivery, man. We’re on it,'” Tomter said. “Let’s do the best we can to keep people working and if you want a burger, or you want a growler to-go, come by our place and get one. And that’s giving a person a job pouring that beer so we appreciate anything we can get.”

Tomter says his business is taking every precaution it can think of to make its brewpubs clean and sanitary.

Related: Read more coronavirus coverage from Alaska Public Media.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has not enacted a statewide ban on restaurants and gatherings similar to Anchorage.

“We have that discussion every day. Sometimes twice a day,” he told reporters Monday. “We’re trying to keep ahead of this spread of this virus. One of the trigger points that we would be looking at is if we had a community infection.”

Dunleavy said if someone who lived in Alaska tested positive, the state would give “serious consideration to limiting the ability for folks to go to restaurants, movie theaters, etc. statewide.”

Dunleavy said the situation is dynamic. “That’s why people need to stay tuned, because things are going to potentially move quickly,” he said.

Reporters Tegan Hanlon and Nat Herz contributed to this story.