As the air quality declined over the weekend, so did business at HopTown Wood Fired Pizza.
The Wapato restaurant started extended weekend hours Saturday, something owners Lori Roy and Carrie Wright had planned before smoke from wildfires began filling the skies.
By Sunday, the restaurant decided to close as it had become too dangerous for both customers and staff, Roy said. The plan was to reopen as usual Wednesday, but it’s uncertain whether that will happen. An air quality alert for the area has been extended to noon on Friday.
“Come Wednesday, if the air quality is still bad, I’m not sure we’ll be open,” she said. “We’re just taking it one day at a time.”
The bad air quality is yet another hurdle for Yakima Valley restaurants, wineries and breweries trying to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many businesses were able to ramp up activity when the state Department of Health allowed Yakima County and other counties in modified Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan to provide outdoor seating. More recently, the Department of Health approved indoor dining at 25% capacity for modified Phase 1 counties.
By then, HopTown had built a significant outdoor dining business. With ample outdoor space, the restaurant has been able to sit upward of 75 people with more than generous physical spacing — at least 8 to 10 feet, above the 6 feet required under current safety guidelines.
With the current capacity limitations, HopTown can seat only 12 or 13 people inside its restaurant.
Roy said she and Wright are considering options for the smoke, such as opening for indoor dining only.
“We’re just facing each new challenge with the new hope that someday, we’re working on being (fully) open,” she said.
The declining air quality also forced the Public House of Yakima to close for several days. The west Yakima taproom closed early Saturday and was closed all day Sunday and Monday.
Like HopTown, the Public House has made changes to accommodate ample outdoor seating.
“It’s frustrating; that’s the best word for it,” owner Jim Williams said. “We’re just hitting our stride, and things were going well.”
Williams said he planned to offer indoor seating through reservations and restart his takeout business, something he depended on when he could not provide any seating several months ago.
“We were pretty successful with our takeout food, so I know people are accustomed to it,” he said.
He hopes that he won’t have to wait too long to resume outdoor seating, but he won’t do it if the air quality remains hazardous.
“For my staff, (safety) is most important,” he said. “We just want to make sure everybody’s safe.”