restaurant industry

CT Restaurant Owners Surprised by ‘Igloo' Outdoor Dining Regulation

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From tossed chairs to dented heat lamps, mother nature made its presence known to restaurant owners Monday.

“We actually had three, but unfortunately one of them got destroyed today in the windstorm,” said Toro Loco chef and owner Anthony Camilleri about the "igloos" he and his restaurant partner have purchased.

The small enclosures for outdoor eating have been a hot commodity recently in Farmington.

Chef Camilleri believes they're a safe selling point, supporting his employees during this pandemic.

“When I say the phone rings off the hook, it rings off the hook for people wanting to book," Camilleri said.

But last week, a new regulation was added to state restaurant guidance.

“An individual party and/or table igloos or other small enclosures are prohibited at this time," the regulation states.

This came as a surprise to owners we spoke to.

“I think is like handcuffing a crippled industry already, so many of us are just struggling to stay alive," Camilleri said.

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Chef and owner of Millwright's in Simsbury, Tyler Anderson, was planning on constructing seven more of these greenhouses, but their plans were put on pause until Monday afternoon when they got an exception from the state.

“What we’re focused on is ventilation and new air coming into those vehicles, into those structures. To the extent that there is ventilation similar to an indoor dining room, we’re going to be comfortable with that,” said David Lehman, the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

Anderson said he’s glad his initial complaint on Facebook caught the attention of state leaders.

But, “my thing is, what if I wasn’t a ‘celebrity chef’ and I had a small mom and pop restaurant,” he said while putting up finger air quotes when he said “celebrity chef.”

He said the statewide decision is disastrous for a lot of people.

“So restaurants across the country and across the state are spending money they don’t have to try and operate and all a sudden, this rule comes down,” said Anderson, who also owns the food truck Ta-Que and provides the food and beverage service for The Goodwin Hotel in Hartford and The Blake Hotel in New Haven.

During the governor’s COVID-19 press conference on Monday, Lehman said they’ll be working with the CT Restaurant Association for solutions moving forward.

Scott Dolch, the executive director of the CRA said the association is "working tirelessly to try to work through guidelines that work for all restaurants and establishments that are looking into enclosed structures outside in these colder months.”

All this as Monday’s weather reminds us outdoor dining is not ready for winter.

“We want to work with these restaurants and we will this week to let them use and utilize what they’ve invested in, but really ventilation is critical reducing the spread,” said Lehman.

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