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Young's dairy on May 17, 2020

Reopening restaurants: An interview with Dan Young

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Interviews in this series

Restaurants in Ohio could reopen for outdoor dining last Friday, May 15, as long as they followed a set of guidelines to protect employees and customers from the novel coronavirus. While many restaurants in the area are not ready to open their doors yet, others are taking tentative steps to welcome back the public. Indoor dining service can resume this Thursday, May 21. 

Local restaurateur Dan Young, of Young’s Jersey Dairy, who was tapped to help draft the new health and safety guidelines for restaurants as part of a statewide panel, spoke with Megan Bachman of the Yellow Springs News last week about his experience with the group. Young is the CEO of Young’s, a longstanding ice cream and outdoor recreation spot just north of the village, which started selling its dairy products to the public more than 60 years ago.

This interview was edited for length.

Yellow Springs News: Thanks for taking the time. So how did you get to participate in the group?

Dan Young: When they decided to put the working group together, they asked the Ohio Restaurant Association for recommendations. I was a past president of the association, and I think my name got recommended from them.

Yellow Springs News: What did you think about the group’s makeup?

Dan Young: It was an amazing group of around 50. We met online. All different kinds of operations were represented from the CEO of Wendy’s and a former chair White Castle. But most people were independents of all different shapes and sizes, from small diners to bigger diners, full service, fast service and everything in between. There were also four or five health department professionals from several counties; when we were “blue skying,” their opinions were very important and guided us a lot.

Yellow Springs News: What was the group’s purpose? 

Dan Young: We looked at how we can word [the guidelines] to make sure we’re doing the best job for safety, for employees and guests. The prevailing thought is we don’t want to [shut down] again. So we don’t want any setbacks, but certainly not a major setback. That would be very damaging. Everybody’s anxious. Several [participants] said, “I’m going to go slower than that” or “I’m going to wait for a while.” Just because you can reopen, doesn’t mean you have to.

Yellow Springs News: Was the group involved in the decision of when to reopen restaurants?

Dan Young: As we were told a number of times by the Lt. governor, we were focusing on the how and they were focusing on the when. No one wanted to reopen before it felt like it was ready to go.

Yellow Springs News: What has been the response to the guidelines?

Dan Young: We had an online seminar last Friday with 500 restaurateurs with six or seven of us on the committee and we went through it line-by-line. There are 23,000 restaurants in the state. We’re going to go through questions, and there’s some confusion. There were questions about how often to clean, whether a certain material is a barrier. One of the questions was, if we have groups of 10 and they are six feet apart in a banquet or a picnic, is that a “mass gathering?” Or is that just 40 groups of 10? We’re working on things like that. 

Yellow Springs News: Why did you decide to not set the seating capacity as a percentage of current capacity?

Dan Young: We recommended the language so it wasn’t like a set percentage. It was, “here are rules.” Everyone is going to have to figure out their own particular circumstances.

It makes more sense to give people the rules. If you set the capacity, you’re not saying how. Someone’s particular bar or dining situation, it will probably end up around that 50% anyway. The thinking was let’s put the rules down, and let people think about their dining room and public areas. We’re getting to where we want to go.

Yellow Springs News: How will these guidelines be implemented at Young’s? Are you reopening on Friday?

Dan Young: Yes, just in time for the rain! We’re well situated for outdoor dining here. Here you could put picnic tables so far apart you could barely see anyone out there!

Yellow Springs News: Right. How many acres have you got total?

Dan Young: We have 122 acres, of course not all of that is available for customers, but a lot of it is. So we’ll add some more picnic tables and maybe put some across the street. Why not?

We’re going to modify the drive-thru, but we’re going to continue it. It’s worked well and we think that our guests are going to continue to want to do that for at least a few months. I’m glad things will ramp up slowly. You’re trying about 12 things you’ve never done before. We’re doing the best we can, and we’re learning along with you what works.

Yellow Springs News: Are you going to reopen the Golden Jersey Inn?

Dan Young: We’re going to hold off on that one for a while, it would be very difficult to operate both restaurants at 30% capacity. We’re at about half staff right now. Most of our staff is high school and college age. Normally at this time of the year, we’re hiring like crazy. We stepped back on that in March.

Yellow Springs News: How many are currently employed?

Dan Young: We probably have about 120 on the payroll total, and as soon as we get people back inside the dairy store, 10 days, we will take a few more. Once the miniature golf, batting cages, and the like are opened up, my best guess is we’re going to be up to around 200 back by the end of June.

Yellow Springs News: What are your plans for the expansion of the dairy store, which was supposed to take place this year, I believe?

Dan Young: We paused on the expansion of the dairy store.We just had to because there was too much uncertainty. This is a huge project for us, and right now there’s too many variables in there.  We’re getting into the time of year that are our busy months, usually April or May through October. What’s going to happen with the Wool Gathering? Pick your own pumpkins and corn mazes? Or company picnics? At the moment there is no degree of certainty and that’s why as painful as it is, going slow is the best solution because if things all of the sudden turn south, if everything goes backwards, we could see a major shutdown. 

Yellow Springs News: Were there any disagreements in the group? 

Dan Young: There were no disagreements, just discussion. Now we’re having weekly meetings to answer questions.

We broke into three groups, of 15 or so. The groups were Employees, Customers & Guests and Physical Spaces. I was on Customers & Guests. It was an amazing group to work with. Not this Friday, but the prior Friday, at 5 p.m., we had the first call. We worked over the weekend, through Monday morning and then Tuesday morning presented our work. But we had the benefit of the retail list. So we started with that, although food service is a lot more intense. Retail isn’t used to quite that level of [sanitation] but to us it’s like stepping up what we normally do. 

Obviously, facemasks are different when you’re dining. There was no pushback on that for employees. We started that at Young’s two or three weeks ago. It makes logical sense. It’s not foolproof but it can reduce the spread of sneezes or coughs or just by talking by 90%. We recommend guests wear [facemasks] but you can’t require them. I would guess 25 to 30% of our drive-thru customers are wearing them. But you can’t lick an ice cream cone with a facemask on.

Yellow Springs News: With the guidelines in place, do you feel it is safe for people to go out to eat?

Dan Young: Is it safe? Yes, I believe it is. Obviously everyone has to make their own decision. But restaurants are more sanitary than they ever have been. I believe we have a good recipe of things to do and we are diligently following the rules and doing our best to keep our staff as well as guests safe.

Read more about what local restaurants are planning here.

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