UTICA, N.Y. -- They're grateful for the early 'gift', but wish they had more than 24 hours to prepare. Governor Andrew Cuomo, on Wednesday, announced that restaurants in the Mohawk Valley region could open for outdoor dining today. The announcement had restaurant owners smiling and scrambling for the next 24 hours, to do something they haven't done in about two and a half months: welcome customers to eat on premises.
"Absolute chaos," said Dan LoConti, owner of Ancora! in downtown Utica. "Staffing's an issue and food isn't ordered yet, anything like that, so you've just gotta piece it together and survive tonight and through the weekend."
Laughter could be heard beneath the sunshine, at tables outside Utica Coffee Roasting early Thursday morning.
"Feels nice to be in the sunshine and be able to breathe," said Gretchen Ellinwood, a Whitesboro High School graduate now living in Albany. "It's just nice to be out. Because even in Albany, they don't have the seating outside yet, because you guys are in a further along phase of it."
The two have a greater appreciation for something they didn't think much about three months ago...before it was taken away. They suspect others will, too.
"Getting together, whether it's up here or down there, it's that socialization and people just need that, man, it's just, everything is so weird and I think the good thing about this happening is i think people really appreciate that time together, that conversation," said Geoff Ellinwood, who now lives in South Carolina, but is here visiting family.
Ocean Blue, in downtown Utica, had planned to begin doing takeout today. Luckily, their expansive outdoor patio made for quick preps to begin outdoor dining today, instead. And it's a good thing.
"We understand 100% why all of this happened, but it was very close to devastating. We could not have made it much longer like this," says owner, Francis Pezzolanella.
The owner of Top of the Morning Cafe, in north Utica, feels Pezzolanella's pain.
"Disastrous. Like I said, I used all my savings up to keep the place paid up, but now we're reopening and hopefully all our customers will come back," says owner, Joe Penree. Penree never did outside seating before, but there are tables and chairs outside his business today. "Well, they told us we could, late last night, I guess, so I figured I'd give it a shot, get people down here. I haven't been open in two and a half months, so..."
In addition to getting back to earning a livelihood, many are also looking forward to reconnecting with their extended restaurant family.
"We've also missed so many holidays, graduations, birthdays, all of that, so I think that there's a lot of people that are ready to celebrate things that have happened in the past couple of months that they couldn't with their close friends and family so lot of celebrations we want to be a part of," said Kati Pezzolanella, of Ocean Blue.
One universal preparation: making sure seating is at least six feet apart, investing in masks and hyper-sanitizing, in order to keep the coronavrus at bay.