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Several NOLA Restaurants Pause Indoor Dining As Vaccination Mandate Goes Into Effect

“Our staff is just exhausted,” Blue Oak BBQ owner Ronnie Evans said of pausing indoor dining in light of the new requirements

Blue Oak BBQ is temporarily shutting down indoor dining
Blue Oak BBQ/Facebook

The city of New Orleans is requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours to dine indoors starting today, August 16. While a few dozen restaurants, bars, and venues made the move to adopt similar requirements prior to the citywide mandate, not all restaurants feel prepared for the significant change — top local spots like Blue Oak BBQ, Cafe Reconcile, and Church Alley coffee shop are among those businesses taking a pause in some way to develop a plan to meet the new requirements.

New Orleans was just the third U.S. city to announce vaccination requirements for indoor dining in light of a local surge in COVID cases — NYC’s mandate also goes into effect today, and one will go into effect in San Francisco on August 20. On Thursday, August 12, New Orleans health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno commented on the requirements, saying, “I think if Tipitina’s, and Milan Lounge, and Saffron can find a way to do it, it’s doable.” But some local businesses need more time, as Blue Oak BBQ owners say, to be able to properly handle the new mandates while keeping both workers and guests safe.

Blue Oak owners Ronnie Evans and Philip Moseley told Eater on Monday that they understand the urgency of the situation, but that two or three days notice to become the “COVID vaccination police,” as Evans put it, is a lot to expect. “We decided as a company it was too big of a hurdle to jump over in such a short period of time. Our staff is just exhausted, we’re coming up on our summer break, and we decided we wanted to wait to implement it until we came back from that, when everyone’s had time to reset the batteries,” Evans said.

The pair also emphasized how much their staff has already been through with enforcing the mask mandate and other requirements. “There’s a lot of pressure on the hospitality industry as a whole. It’s a lot of pressure on the staff, and at the end of the day what we care about most is the safety of our staff. Now they need to be a bouncer or security guard when none of us have this training,” Moseley said. They said they feel fortunate to even be able to make the decision to close indoor dining this week because of their large outdoor space, unlike many of their peers.

Evans and Moseley hope that by the time they return from their break, people will be used to showing their vaccination cards in places in Orleans Parish. “We’re going to see what other people are doing, what’s working and what’s not, and come up with a process that works for us,” Evans said. They expect to reopen indoor dining when they come back from break on August 30.

Cafe Reconcile, a Central City restaurant that doubles as a job-training program for teens and young adults, has decided to close down entirely, if briefly, “in light of the recent city mandates and the dramatic conditions brought on by the COVID delta variant,” the restaurant said Monday. It’s closed August 16 through 20, reopening Monday, August 23 — also the day the city said enforcement is set to start. Church Alley Cafe & Grocery, a Mid City cafe active in the community, is pausing indoor dining this week, but will remain open for takeout and outdoor seating; 10 percent of sales this week will be donated to Women With a Vision, it said in its announcement of the pause on Monday. A few weeks ago, prior to the new indoor dining requirements, top sandwich destination Turkey and the Wolf announced a switch to outdoor dining only.

The new rules don’t require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for takeout or outdoor dining. It does, however, apply to basically all indoor venues (music, events, stadiums, casinos, strip clubs) as well as outdoor events of more than 500 people if total attendance is more than 50 percent of the outdoor venue’s capacity, meaning it could apply to some local festivals. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the requirements on August 12, a few days after New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival organizers canceled the 2021 festival, which had been postponed from its normal spring dates to mid-October.

On Friday, the French Quarter Festival did the same, calling off the 2021 festival scheduled for September, which had also been postponed from the spring. Both are scheduled to return for their normal spring dates in 2022. A few of the remaining, smaller festivals like Beignet Fest and the National Fried Chicken Festival have not yet changed their plans for fall events.

Some restaurants say they experienced a wave of reservation cancellations after the requirements were announced, like Galatoire’s, whose CEO Melvin Rodrigue told the restaurant saw its reservation count drop from 350 guests to about 120 overnight after the mandate was announced. The mandate has affected other establishments in different ways — Mister Mao, a new Uptown restaurant that just opened at the end of July, says it lost cooks following news of the mandate, which requires employees as well as patrons to be vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test to work inside. The restaurant’s also pausing its roving cart service, in which patrons can choose to add small plates from a dim-sum style cart as it passes, as an extra precaution.

New Orleans’s mandate requires diners to show proof that they’ve had at least one shot of the vaccine with a physical vaccine card, a digital photo or photocopy of their vaccine card, or via the LA Wallet app or the equivalent in their state, or to present a recent negative COVID test (within 72 hours). For a list of upcoming community vaccination events in New Orleans, see here.

Do you know of any restaurants temporarily closing or shutting down indoor dining in light of the mandate? Let us know.

Cafe Reconcile

1631 Oretha C Haley Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70113 (504) 568-1157

Blue Oak BBQ

900 North Carrollton Avenue, , LA 70119 (504) 822-2583 Visit Website

Church Alley Cafe

4201 Canal St. , New orleans, LA 70119