When Angie Devora closed Meraki Creations the first time in late March of last year, she had been in business for fewer than two months.
The restaurant’s closure would be the first of many in the last 16 months. The restaurant’s indoor dining area has been closed since the pandemic started because it was too small to operate profitably at 25% or 50% capacity, which is what was allowed when the Yakima County was under various stages of partial reopening.
“There’s just no way we could do it without compromising staff and community safety,” she said.
That will change when the entire restaurant — including its indoor dining area — reopens in early July.
For the first time in more than a year, most businesses will be fully open — with no capacity restrictions — on Wednesday, or earlier if the state reaches the 70% vaccination initiation target.
Devora had planned to open on June 30 as well but had to push back the date because of issues with a piece of equipment.
Still, certainty is a welcome change. “It’s been completely unpredictable,” Devora said.
Far fewer restrictions
When full reopening happens, businesses can operate without any occupancy or capacity restrictions.
There are a few exceptions. Indoor event venues with a capacity of more than 10,000 people will remain at 75% capacity and must require spectators to wear masks or verify full vaccination. Masks also be required for higher-risk congregate settings like health care, regardless of vaccination status.
Businesses will still have to follow L&I requirements for employers and employees, namely that employers will have to verify that employees are fully vaccinated before dropping mask and social distancing requirements. Unvaccinated residents will still have to wear masks indoors in public spaces, under an order from the state secretary of health.
Businesses also have the option to implement additional restrictions, such as requiring masks or vaccination, and have the right to verify vaccination status, said Ginny Streeter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
Streeter said the Department of Health and the governor’s office are reviewing the sector-specific guidance issued last year. The focus will likely be on specific settings such as schools, health care and congregate settings.
In the weeks leading up to full reopening, a coalition of Yakima Valley business organizations has been fielding plenty of questions, said Verlynn Best, president of the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizations in the coalition.
Most of the questions have revolved around mask requirements. Best said she hoped that masks requirements could be dropped when the state’s vaccination rate reached 70%, but now the focus is to ensure the businesses can follow the rules and minimize infection so they can stay fully open.
“We’re going to continue to be a resource for information,” she said. “If a business has a question, please reach out and call us.”
Preparing to open
Devora of Meraki Creations isn’t taking any chances. In the weeks leading up to her planned reopening, she’s been cleaning the restaurant. She’s also added an outdoor seating area to increase her dining capacity.
She resisted calls to open if it meant putting her staff and customers at risk.
“I’m just doing everything I possibly can to get through this with integrity,” she said.
But she’s had fun these last few weeks, too. She secured a liquor license and built a bar in the restaurant. She’s also tweaked her menu to include seasonal items highlighting food grown in the Yakima Valley.
And she’s eager to serve customers again, including those who have shown support in the last year.
“People are stopping by, messaging, sending cards and letters,” she said. “As tragic as the experience has been, it’s been beautiful to feel the love of the community.”
This story was edited to update the planned opening for Meraki Creations.