UPDATED: Malheur County restaurants adapting to new restrictions, some plan to close

Mal’s Diner in Vale is one of the many local restaurants that will be impacted by Gov. Kate Brown’s ban issued Monday afternoon in response to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

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VALE – The news Gov. Kate Brown ordered all bars and restaurants in Oregon to stop inside dining for four weeks was sinking in for Vale restaurant owner Malinda Castleberry Monday afternoon.

Castleberry owns Mal’s Diner and said she already planned on the possibility of a two-week shutdown.

The length of the ban – which starts Tuesday – means she will have to go back to “the drawing board.”

 “I think it is going to drastically impact our business and livelihoods,” said Castleberry.

Under the directive, restaurants and bars are barred from providing seated dining, a step meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that state officials expect to infect up to 75,000 Oregonians by mid-May. The restaurants are permitted to provide take out and delivery service. There are 139 food establishments in Malheur County under the jurisdiction of the county’s environmental health department.

Violating the restrictions is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,250.

Kathy Saldana, owner of the A Street Tavern in Vale and Quins Bar in Ontario, said she will close both of her businesses. The impact, she said, will be difficult to determine.

“I am going to be OK for a little while but I am not OK for the long while,” said Saldana.

Bob Holmes, the owner of Bob’s Steak N’ Spirits in Nyssa, said that he has been trying to reach the state Bureau of Labor and Industries to find out if his 21 employees are eligible for unemployment benefits, but the bureau is currently on furlough until Wednesday, he said. 

Holmes said that Bob’s Steak N’ Spirits will shut down at midnight Monday, and that he will have to assess if shifting to carry out will be profitable or feasible, he said. 

“It’s a terrible situation,” Holmes said. “I don’t know what my employees are going to do.” 

Holmes said that his understanding is that his employees are immediately eligible for unemployment benefits. 

Holmes said that at 3 p.m. this afternoon he held a meeting with his employees on the situation. 

“But at three o-clock this afternoon we were still in business,” Holmes said. 

“I’m at a loss, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “We are definitely concerned about our employees No. 1. No. 2, if we are shut down for four weeks we are very concerned about our livelihood.” 

“I still have bills to pay,” Holmes said. 

Holmes said that he feels as though Brown judges the whole state by what Portland and Salem do, and that there was no need for restriction in a place like Nyssa. 

Holmes said that his restaurant already has taken precautions to protect against the virus, and that his employees weren’t concerned about working during the outbreak. 

“I think locally we were handling it fine,” Holmes added.

Sharon Bannon, owner of the Starlite Cafe, said that the restaurant will comply with the governor’s mandate and plans to shift to take out. She also said the restaurant won’t close until there is an order to do so.

“I just want to follow what the governor says,” Bannon said. 

At Romio’s Pizza and Pasta in Ontario, the plan is to rotate employees so that they all get a shift. Assistant Manager Rileee Carrell said employees were “a little bit worried, a little bit stressed.”

She said the restaurant will try to prioritize employees who need the money the most. Romio’s will remain open for takeout and deliveries. 

At Chavelita’s Taqueria in Vale, owners were unaware of the change as they operated business as usual Monday. Reached by phone, management said they will likely have to cut down hours of operation. Employees hours will likely get cut in order to give everyone a shift.

Jason Jungling, the owner of the Plaza Inn restaurant in Ontario, said the situation is still so new, with so many unknowns, it is difficult to say what the full ramifications will be. 

Today, Jungling said, the Plaza Inn was open but had to close early because the restaurant was empty following Brown’s announcement. The restaurant also was $1,000 dollars under what he usually makes, Jungling said. 

“With us, doing a to go only option, I am not really sure what the demand for that would be, because it is nothing that we have done,” Jungling said. 

Jungling said that if the take-out option is not profitable, it might make more sense to close down entirely. 

Jungling said that a lot of the restaurant’s clients are older folks who go to the restaurant for the atmosphere and to socialize. 

“Their routines are going to be completely messed up,” Jungling said. “They are set in the same routine and I just don’t know what effects that is going to have on the older population.” 

Another concern for Jungling is that he does not have boxes for take-out orders, but he said that if the orders are popular, he can quickly get boxes. 

Tomorrow, Jungling said, the Plaza Inn will be open for takeout only.

In Vale, Bixby’s Stopitoff plans to add staff during the lunch hour as it provides takeout and drive-through service. Heather Bixby said customers can call in orders to 541-473-3818.

Cindy Lynch of Brewsky’s Broiler in Ontario said it plans to add delivery options.

“We are still fine tuning our plan, but for the time being, we will be offering take out only,” she said in an email.

Anticipating the changes, Connie Huston, owner of Ogawa’s in Ontario, had already talked to her employees Monday morning.

Huston said the plan at the popular sushi restaurant is to try to keep as many people employed as possible. 

“That’s our goal,” Huston said, adding that the restaurant would reduce employees’ hours and spread out shifts. 

“They know we’re doing the best we can to take care of them in the best possible way that we can,” Huston said. 

Take-out orders already comprise a large chunk of the business at Ogawa’s, she added.

“We will continue with that and with our full menu as much as possible depending on supply,” she said. 

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