Jerusalem’s restaurant managers are excited, and somewhat skeptical, after the government voted on Monday to allow them to open next week for the first time in more than two months.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Doni Silverstein, owner of Urbun Cafe, which sells hot buns in Mahaneh Yehuda market. “The restaurants around here need people to come in. Takeout isn’t enough. People have been telling us they are excited to come into the restaurant and sit down.”
Starting on Sunday, March 7, cafes and restaurants throughout Israel will be allowed to welcome “green passport” holders for both indoor and outdoor dining, while those who do not have a green passport will only be allowed to sit outdoors. In addition, hotels will be able to resume full activities for those who are fully vaccinated, and event halls will also be able to resume operating.
The reopening cannot come soon enough for the restaurant industry, which has been one of the sectors more severely battered by the coronavirus pandemic and closures.
Since Israel’s third lockdown began at the end of December, restaurants have been forbidden from opening and have been allowed only to provide food deliveries, crippling many establishments that were already teetering on the brink of closure.
But after a year of sudden stops and starts dictated by government policies that seem to flip-flop regularly, the promise of yet another reopening plan invites a fair share of skepticism, as well as joy.
“We don’t know what is happening; every week they change their minds,” said Jessica Elter, manager of the Burgers Market chain in Jerusalem.
“Obviously, we’re very happy,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for this. Our customers have been waiting, asking us every day when we’ll open.”
The restaurant will have a lot to do to get ready to welcome back customers, but it hasn’t started yet, Elter said.
“In the coming days, when we see that is really happening, we’ll start to organize the place for customers, set up all the equipment and table arrangements and prepare for taking orders,” she said. “At that time, we’ll do some promotion on our social-media pages for the reopening, but not a major campaign. And we’ll ask our customers to have patience as we figure things out.”
Ethan Padnos, the manager of Hatch, a popular meat restaurant in Mahaneh Yehuda, expressed excitement and a bit of anxiety at the prospect of reopening.
“I’m excited and looking forward to seeing people,” he said. “It’s been a long year without them. That’s why we’re here in the shuk [outdoor market], to see our customers.
“But at the same time, I’m pessimistic about how it’s going to work,” he added. “I read that the government might require us to set up a system requiring customers to make reservations, but nobody seems to know about that. We’ll have to make sure we can keep our customers and our workers safe in this small eating area.”
Meanwhile, reopening with such short notice presents major challenges, Padnos said.
“We have a lot of cleaning and organizing to do,” he said. “We have to move from being takeout-oriented to being a sit-down restaurant again, and that means moving from disposable cutlery and boxes and bags to bringing out the silverware and plates and tables.
“We also need to do some hiring. A lot of our staff was on halat [unpaid leave] or left Israel to go back to their families abroad. We have to hire new people and train them in a week to get ready for this. It is a little bit daunting.”
Other restaurants seem to be hiring as well, Padnos said.
“There are a lot of new restaurants in the shuk, and many are looking for workers, especially post-army,” he said. “I see that there is a lot of room for work at the shuk now.”
Ultimately, there seemed to be a sense of excitement in the market as Israel gears up to try to be the first country in the world to exit the pandemic.
“Everyone should get out,” Silverstein said. “It’s been a long time that people have been stuck at home. People need to get out onto the streets and enjoy themselves for their mental health and for themselves. We need to get out of the mindset of being stuck.”