Before the pandemic, it was difficult to get outdoor seating approved in Chapel Hill, parking was limited and sidewalk space was minimal.
But for the past year, local restaurants have benefitted from curbside parking spots, extended sidewalks, outdoor seating and other temporary allowances approved by the Town of Chapel Hill. And although social distancing and capacity guidelines are being lifted as the state slowly returns to normalcy, some of these new policies are here to stay.
Jamil Kadoura, the owner of Mediterranean Deli on West Franklin Street, said this has been an extremely tough year. The deli had 97 employees before the pandemic, and kept 66 of them. He took out private loans to help keep his employees paid.
“My family here, they'll do anything for me. I'll do anything for them. That's part of the success of us here,” he said. “It's a family atmosphere all the way.”
But Kadoura said outdoor seating gave his business hope. With larger sidewalk space, he’s been able to bring in more business. He said he hasn’t seen this many people dining out in a long time.
“The sidewalk dining has helped us a lot," he said. "I wish it will stay forever this way.”
Kadoura said the damage isn’t nearly fixed though. His business is recovering, and he said it will take at least a year and a half to return to how things were before the pandemic. Without outdoor seating, that timeline could be much longer.