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Bellmore-Merrick restaurants prepare for indoor dining

Restaurateurs optimistic as colder weather sets in

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With restaurants at limited capacity for indoor dining due to the coronavirus pandemic, many have added outdoor seating to make up for the loss of customers — and revenue. But with colder weather approaching, restaurateurs in Bellmore and Merrick are pondering alternatives to stay afloat through the winter.

Current state protocols allow restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity for indoor dining. For Lynn Mione, owner of The Vine Wine Bar in Merrick, this means she can only accommodate 25 guests at a time.

“We’re turning away customers every Friday and Saturday night, which is one of the worst things to see as a small business,” she said. “Once we’re at capacity there’s nothing we can do but offer them a great experience on another night, so we offer guests a voucher to come in during the week with an incentive.”

As a whole, the business is climbing, Mione said, but since the bar won’t be hosting any holiday parties this year, she’s encouraging residents to purchase gift cards, instead. “Winter’s our season regardless,” she said, “but we’re going to lose a good amount of business because of capacity issues.”

In North Merrick, a 37-year establishment is welcoming diners back under new management. Ciro Pernice recently acquired Galleria Ristorante from his father, Gaetano, and plans to bring the family business into modern times. The restaurant will undergo a floor-to-ceiling renovation in the coming months, during which time it will be fully operational and offer limited indoor dining.

“I’ve designed a whole new website, and one page is strictly dedicated to our Covid safety precautions,” Pernice said. “Everybody’s wearing masks and gloves, there’s daily temperature checks of all the staff . . . Even with all the changes, we’re still going to be the same Galleria that we have been for the last three decades.”

Over the summer, Bourbon & Brews’ outdoor dining patio was a popular destination to grab a craft cocktail or a bar bite. To accommodate guests during the colder months, owner John Amaruso is in the process of setting up miniature greenhouses over the outdoor tables; each comes with its own heat lamp.

“We’re learning how to survive in this new abnormal,” he said. And as far as indoor dining goes, “the tables are spaced apart far enough, and we’ve taken half of the stools [at the bar] away.”

Anthony Brew also set up an outdoor dining patio at his new Bellmore restaurant, Anthony’s Kitchen & Cocktails, but it’s likely that sit-down meals will be held inside through the winter.

“We [have] Plexiglas dividers between tables and at the bar as well,” he said. “We are very strict with the masks and are on top of it at all points of the night to ensure our guests’ safety and [the safety of] my staff, as well.”

Brew added that the restaurant will offer at-home catering for the holidays.

At Elisa’s Restaurant in North Bellmore, owner Paul Telese said he’ll continue to offer outdoor dining “as long as we possibly can.” Inside, diners are seated at a social distance, plastic dividers have been installed, the HVAC system has been updated and there are four sanitizing stations placed throughout the restaurant. The menu has also been revamped to be more takeout-friendly for diners who opt to eat at home.

“The guests have been very understanding and cooperative — they know we’re doing our best,” Telese said. “I’m looking forward to the day when we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Andrew Garcia and Matthew Ferremi contributed to this story.