TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Jack Flanigan reopened his restaurant to sit-down diners at noon on Monday, the exact time that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s new directive said he could (with restrictions).
Flanigan owns the popular Crab Shack in this coastal community and opened the eating establishment some 40 years ago, saying at the time, it was a camp.
“It might be again if this doesn’t work,” he said.
Flanigan has been closed to in-person dining for about a month and has laid off the majority of his employees. He said he is opening up to try to gauge whether customers will come back and how they will navigate the changing waters of the business world in the age of coronavirus.
“It’s been tough,” said Flanigan. “Laying off people when you know there are not any other jobs for them and not knowing what’s going to happen.”
First, up to half of his more than 700 seating has been cut. Tables are all spaced at least six feet apart.
“So the customer base is going to be a lot smaller,” he said.
He is wearing a mask and gloves and carrying an infrared thermometer which he says is used to take the temperature of staff who are also all wearing masks and gloves.
He also said they have a strict sanitizing procedure in place and are not using dishes or flatware at this point. “We’re serving everything in ‘to go’ packages so nothing comes back to the kitchen,” said Flanigan.
But in the days and weeks ahead, it will all depend on customers and their willingness to venture out to a restaurant to have a meal. Monday, right at the noon hour, Gill Vigreux and his wife Misty drove up asking if they were “the first customers” to find out that indeed they were.
The couple came quite a way to have lunch, saying they lived just east of Atlanta.
“We’re one of Crab Shack’s biggest fans,” said Mr. Vigreux. “We’ve been eating here for 15 or 20 years. We’re doing it to support small business because we are small business owners.”
The future will be about how many customers are willing to come out. The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce says across the area, some restaurants are opening while others may not be yet.
“I think everybody is taking a measured approach,” said Bill Hubbard from the Chamber. “Certainly everybody is interested in commerce coming back but safety is overwhelmingly the priority.
Hubbard says most businesses are likely trying “to figure out how to do it as safely as they can and asking how do they set up their facilities to have appropriate spacing.”
Flanigan told us he thinks they have about the best set up they can have.
“I think we’re a little better off than most places because we’re outside, actually it’s basically a screened porch,” he said. “So it’s enclosed, we’re not breathing recycled air, so I think we’re probably as safe as you can get given the conditions we’re in now.”
Flanigan says he felt he had no choice but to test the waters by opening, saying he is trying to keep the employees he still has. But he knows it will be day-to-day.
“And we just have to have and see what the business is going to do,” he said.