Some Sumter restaurants open outdoor dining


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As South Carolina started to reopen, some Sumter restaurants that could jumped at the opportunity to reopen their outdoor seating to keep business running and provide Sumterites with dining-out services.

Gov. Henry McMaster ended the state's stay-at-home order on Monday. He also allowed restaurants to serve the public outdoors as long as there is 8 feet separation between tables after more than six weeks of only allowing take-out or delivery.

Shoney's on South Pike West got creative and made its own outdoor patio section by bringing the indoor seating outside in the parking lot.

"We figured we'd provide a little dining experience and give everybody an opportunity to get outside, get some fresh air and visit with each other," Shoney's Manager Gene Lady said.

Shoney's started serving its customers on a first-come, first-served basis outside on Monday with only a couple of tables available. On Tuesday, employees added more tables outside with tents hovering over the tables to provide shade from the recent hot weather.

"It's going to get bigger and bigger every day. That's what we're hoping for," Lady said. "The community has been here for us for so many years, so we're just trying to be there for them."

Willie Sue's also reopened its outdoor patio on Monday, and it has been fairly busy since, according to Kevyn Hyer, bar manager at the restaurant.

"We had the opportunity to (open)," Hyer said. "We've got to employ a lot of people whose families needed them to come back to work. Without revenue, we can't pay people."

Other restaurants have also started opening up their outdoor patios or improvising to make them, based on social media and a drive around Sumter Tuesday: Eggs Up Grill on East Wesmark Boulevard, Angel's Mexican Restaurant on South Pike West, Baker's Sweets on Alice Drive, Sidebar on North Main Street, Starbucks on Broad Street, Moe's Southwest Grill on Broad Street and more.

However, other local eateries have had to change their way of service altogether because of the pandemic.

Scott Estep, owner of Palmetto Oyster House and J. O'Grady's, has had a difficult time reopening his restaurants with the new normal.

"It's never going to be back to normal," Estep said. "It's almost impossible for us to do."

When it comes to J. O'Grady's, Estep said the downtown restaurant doesn't have the space to reopen to the public even with a couple outdoor tables. With Palmetto Oyster House on West Wesmark Boulevard, Estep doesn't see the serving industry lasting much longer.

"We're losing a lot of people. The server industry is really in a shakeup. I don't know how any place is going to be able to abide by the rules," Estep said. "You're not set to run on only 20% capacity. You still have to have a full staff to run."

Estep plans to reopen Palmetto Oyster House within the next couple of weeks, but it won't be a dine-in service, as there are too many guidelines to follow during COVID-19. He has been operating a to-go window that offers take-out and drive-through services.

The pandemic has made a big impact on restaurants, and it got Estep thinking about ways to continue serving the community with dine-in options not being available.

Palmetto Oyster House is in the process of building a counter that will allow people to order "fast casual," according to Estep. It's designed to be "a no-touch zone" for the customers, as they will order, pay and get their food to go, and it will continue to keep Estep's restaurant in business.

"You're not having anyone wait on you here," Estep said about the new form of service. "I think those days are going to be kind of gone for a while."