Clare & Don’s Moves Dining Outside Due to New Delta Variant

DAVID TAX, the co-owner of Clare & Don’s, is again prompted to utilize the restaurant’s outdoor dining space as a result of the new Covid-19 variant. (Photo: J. Michael Whalen, 2020)

Restaurants and entertainment venues around the City of Falls Church were finally regaining their balance after a shaky year due to the Covid-19 pandemic…until the surging Delta variant cast a cloud over the previously optimistic summer. Now at least one establishment is closing its indoor dining room to non-senior patrons, and is even open to screening customers for their vaccination status later this year.

That business is the popular Clare & Don’s Beach Shack on N. Washington Street, which shut down its indoor dining room for everyone except those 65 and older a few weeks ago.

“We have a lot of immunocompromised people who come into the restaurant, at least that I know of. And of course, we have a lot of elderly people as well,” co-owner David Tax said. “I just don’t feel the need [to leave it open].”
Tax said the decision to limit the inside to certain customers was made despite outfitting the restaurant with a new air filtration system and the region having a higher vaccination rate than the national average. He also acknowledged that this isn’t a costly decision for him at this time, since Clare & Don’s patrons mostly sit outside anyway (about an 80-20 split right now, according to Tax).

For his other business, Lazy Mike’s Delicatessen, which he co-owns with his sister Rebecca, there is some demand for indoor dining when people come in for breakfast. They’re letting people 60 and over still sit inside at the deli. Tax does believe he’ll lose some customers over this move, but once the weather gets chillier and people only want to sit inside, that’s when he’s considering screening customers for proof of vaccination.

“Hypothetically, if we went into the wintertime, and we weren’t able to utilize the outside and…we have to go inside, 100 percent I will check vaccination status,” Tax said.

Tax noted that the inflection point is usually pretty deep into the colder months — in his estimation, people are typically comfortable sitting outside through Thanksgiving, even if they have to bundle up a bit. But if it does come to the point where he’ll ask for vaccination proof, he believes everyone should have, at the bare minimum, a photo of their vaccine card. And he does believe he will ask for proof “at least once” sometime later this year.

Other restaurants in Falls Church haven’t been so steadfast in their plans for the future.

Katherine Thompson, who co-owns Thompson Italian with her husband Gabe, said that the restaurant has no intention of asking diners for proof of vaccination. Her primary concern is that asking for such proof could exclude families with young kids from coming to their restaurant.

However, she did say “…that all could change depending on if/when cases go up in this area, what our local governments and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommend, and our overall comfort level.”
Meredith Johnstone, the COO and primary talent buyer for the State Theatre, said she doesn’t foresee the live music venue asking for vaccination proof from anyone. She said that vaccine requirements become a “different animal” when, between both staff and patrons, more than 600 people can be on premises at one time. With the theatre looking to allow more guests in soon, the logistics of a vaccine requirement are too challenging to pull off.

Michael Paluzzi, the owner of Falls Church Distillers, and Chris Leftbom, the owner of Dogwood Tavern, both said separately that they also don’t plan to ask for proof of vaccination unless instructed to do so by state or federal authorities.

The federal government said back in April that it had no interest in requiring Americans to carry around a vaccine “passport;” the term referring to a portable form that verifies a person’s vaccination status. However, as the Delta variant has taken up more space in the public consciousness over the past two weeks, President Joe Biden issued vaccine mandates for all federal workers and members of the military.

Other arms of the federal government, including healthcare workers at Veterans Affairs hospitals, have also been required to be fully vaccinated. Some state governments, including Virginia’s, have followed suit for its employees, as has the county government in Fairfax and the city government in Falls Church.

New York City has been the most stringent with its vaccine requirements. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that, come mid-September, all City residents will need to provide proof of vaccination if they want to go to the gym, restaurant, bar or enjoy other indoor leisure activities.

Some Republican-led states, most notably Florida and Texas, have passed legislation barring businesses from being able to request vaccination proof from customers. These laws were passed months ahead of the Delta variant becoming the dominant strain of the Coronavirus in the U.S., which has prompted certain businesses to take it upon themselves to screen patrons for proof of vaccination before allowing them into their stores, including those in Washington, D.C.