LaFonda owner, Sal Martinez, regularly applies disinfectant at the restaurant to ensure the safety of his employees and guests. LaFonda Mexican Kitchen is located at 430 E. Capac Rd. (M-21).

Area restaurants welcome customers
after state’s COVID-19 restrictions lifted

LaFonda’s grateful to customers

IMLAY CITY — Salvador “Sal” Martinez is rolling out the red, green and white carpet for returning and new customers at La Fonda Mexican Kitchen at 430 E. Capac Rd. (M-21) in Imlay City.

Forced to close in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sal opened a month later for takeout-only customers.

This week, he reopened the restaurant for indoor dining, resulting in the return to work of 10-12 laid-off employees, including kitchen and wait staff.

It’s been a tough stretch for Sal and his wife, Maria, who own and operate other LaFonda restaurants in Brown City, Romeo and Waterford, which were also forced to close due to the pandemic.

“It’s been hard,” he said, “but we’re happy now to be able to reopen and to welcome back our customers.”

He acknowledged the support of his loyal take-out customers, without whose support the business might have been in jeopardy.

“We want to thank everyone that supported us with takeout orders,” Sal said. “It’s those customers we have to thank for our doors still being open.

“We invite our regular customers, and new ones, to stop in and enjoy our food, drink and hospitality,” he said. “Everyone is welcome and we appreciate the support.”

Safety and service

When entering the doors at LaFonda, customers can expect to be greeted by cheerful waitstaff wearing masks.

If desired, customers are provided masks of their own, along with hand-sanitizers and seating arrangements consistent with social distancing protocol.

Sal said the restaurant is currently open seven days a week at 50% capacity; or no more than 60-70 people at one time.

He noted that restaurant staff continues to take daily, even hourly measures to ensure the restaurant’s cleanliness and safety for customers.

“We want to secure the safety of both our customers and our employees,” he said. “We use disinfectant spray everywhere in the restaurant,” he continued, “including all the tables, chairs, doors and handles — anywhere people may touch.”

Current hours are Monday thru Thursday from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

For further information about LaFonda Mexican Kitchen, or to reserve a table or place a takeout order, call the restaurant at 810-721-7810.

Eateries feel local support

ALMONT — Other than a brief closure in April, Charlie Brown’s has stayed busy serving customers over the past several months.

“We did close totally for two weeks in April,” said owner Michele Breen.

After reopening, the business served customers through their drive thru and curbside pickup.

“Our drive thru is still very busy. We offered our whole menu during the close down and haven’t changed any pricing. People have very generously tipped the staff during all of this. Our wait time at drive thru had increased, it seems like our orders are much bigger, probably with everyone at home. We appreciate customers’ patience and business,” Michele said.

As for precautions, Michele noted that Charlie Browns has made some changes.

“We all wear masks and gloves. I do ask that customers who come inside now do as well. We installed glass shields at our ordering points. We removed half of our chairs. The first day we opened our doors back up we only had a few people order inside and only a couple people dine in, I think that will still take time.” Aside from limited indoor seating, there are a few picnic tables out front where patrons can enjoy their tasty treats.

Jaime Albers, owner of Sippin’ in the Mitten in Almont, closed her doors on March 21 due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases and concern for her employees’ safety.

They reopened on May 16 for curbside and take out and then, on June 8, the eatery reopened for dine in guests at 50% capacity.

“Prior to reopening, we installed plexiglass between the register and the customers ordering area, did a deep clean and sanitized everything, and we moved tables and sitting areas so that they are six feet apart for compliance,” Jaime said.

“Our standard cleaning list has expanded to sanitizing the door handles, credit card reader and touch screens, attempting to clean after each use as our customers’ safety is our first priority.”

When June 8 came around, Sippin’ in the Mitten was ready for customers and apparently, customers were ready for their favorite drinks and treats.

“We had a wonderful opening day, with over 100 customers. We were very excited to see our regulars again and brought some sense of normalcy back for most. Our employees were excited to be back working,” Jaime said.

While opening has been great, Jaime says she has noticed a few differences in how people are ordering.

“Our online ordering prior to COVID, had roughly 10 orders a month. We have had around 120 online orders this first month of being reopened now! With our shop not having a drive thru, our sales have dropped by over 50%. We are hoping that more customers start to get more familiar with online ordering and curbside, and that we will see our sales pick back up.”

Obviously, being closed was difficult for the business.

“Our prices have remained the same. I have considered increasing them due to the overall financial impact of COVID and being closed for two months. Supplies have increased in cost due to demand dropping for the pandemic from suppliers,” Jaime said.

On June 8, dine in customers were doubly treated, thanks to a promotion by Dan Walker of Aurora Realty. Walker’s company paid all customers’ orders, up to $20 per order.

“On the first day for inside seating, we had over 53 orders that were covered by Dan Walker. Those dine in customers enjoyed $427.31 in free products,” Jaime said.

Dan, who hosted an online voting contest to determine the “winning” restaurant, said he was happy to help.

“Truthfully, it just seemed like the right thing to do. When I decided to come back to Almont, I was committed to making the whole town better. After being closed for so long, I knew that the restaurants in particular were hit hard. I just thought that it could help. I want everyone and everything to succeed here,” Walker said.

Sippin’ in The Mitten is continuing their curbside pickup and online ordering, along with dine in at 50% capacity for the time being. All ordering information can be found on their Facebook page.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.