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Local Restaurants Navigating Tricky Rules as City Opens to 50 Percent Capacity

Maybe it was a case of fortuitous planning. Maybe it was just good timing. Michael Poole, the co-owner of the Thai-inspired Trio BYOB at 2601 Pennsylvania Avenue, laughs and says it was just “luck” that Trio created its own delivery and takeout app just prior to the start of the COVID-10 pandemic last March, a stroke of fortune that has allowed Trio to stay afloat during these extremely challenging times for restaurants in Philadelphia.

Poole said it’s remained that way, even as the City increased its restaurant capacity to 50 percent recently. Poole said “we just don’t see the interest in dining out” even with the expanded customer limit. Trio seats about 36 diners in house with the new rules, and the in-restaurant volume has been limited. Given that, along with HVAC requirements that mandate restaurants measuring the air exchange repeatedly each hour and the cost of upgrading HVAC units, restaurants have been under constant duress for the last 12 months.

That hasn’t slowed the delivery and takeout business.

“The community has been great. We have a strong foundation of regulars and they’ve responded,” said Poole, who just celebrated his 15th year at Trio. “The neighborhood knows us. We’ve been involved since the beginning. Luckily, they showed up. We’re super appreciative. We call it an attitude of gratitude. Overall, it’s been kind of crappy, but we feel lucky to be doing what we’re doing.”

At SOUTH Restaurant and Jazz Club, the sledding has been difficult as well. The restaurant opened for indoor dining in September and then closed the indoor option in November and is waiting for at least another month before opening indoor dining again. The challenge has been significant, particularly the City rules that the HVAC company must sign off on the complicated air-flow rules.

“It’s pretty challenging. We have an HVA company that we’ve used for 10 years and we’ve been very pleased with them and they are very knowledgeable,” SOUTH owner Robert Bynum said. “They can’t figure it out. That obviously makes me concerned. I’m not going to sign off on it if our experts aren’t able to sign off on it. Our hope is that there will be some clarity shortly.

“We’re OK waiting for 3-4 weeks before we open for indoor dining again and that between now and then more people will get vaccinated and that the numbers (of positive COVID-19 cases) will continue to drop and that we’ll be in a much safer place.”

Both Trio and SOUTH are experiencing what restaurants in the Greater Art Museum District and throughout the City of Philadelphia are trying to get a handle on: The complicated rules and regulations for indoor dining, particularly with respect to the HVAC requirements.

Said Bynum: “There are a lot of restauranteurs asking the same questions, looking for answers. Hopefully, we will get some of those answers from the City shortly. We’re very thankful to our community and those who have supported us, including the Fairmount CDC. They’ve been wonderful and it has helped us through an incredibly traumatic time.”

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