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"This is a big breath of fresh air": Restaurant owners react to eased COVID-19 restrictions

The owners of Lil' Bit Nola, a newly-opened restaurant in Ghent, said the eased restrictions couldn't come at a more perfect time.

NORFOLK, Va. — Nearly a year after the first COVID-19 case was reported in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam announced Virginia will begin slowly easing restrictions.

The Governor made the announcement during a live press conference Wednesday.

For restaurant owners in Hampton Roads, the announcement was a huge relief.

Mark Conway, the General Manager of Lil’ Bit Nola in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk said the new measures couldn’t have come at a better time. 

It’s what Conway was hoping for. Lil’ Bit Nola opened a couple of weeks ago, a risky move Conway and his team made in anticipation of restrictions getting lifted.

“Without these restrictions starting to lessen a little bit, it was gonna be really hard for the majority of restaurants that have managed to stay open to last much longer, so this is a big breath of fresh air,” said Conway.

Northam will ease restrictions beginning March 1. Here are the changes:

  • alcohol sales can go until midnight, instead of the current 10 p.m. cut-off.
  • a stay-at-home order between midnight to 5 a.m. will get lifted
  • outdoor social gatherings will increase from 10 people to 25.
  • outdoor sports and entertainment venues can have up to 1,000 people, with a 30 percent cap.
  • indoor venues will have a new limit of 250 people, with a 30 percent cap.

“It’s critical that we do this slowly and thoughtfully,” said Northam. “We do not want to risk our progress by easing restrictions too quickly.”

RELATED: Governor Northam lifts some COVID-19 restrictions in Virginia

Conway anticipates the biggest financial boost for his restaurant will come from the new measure allowing alcohol sales until midnight. The increased number of people who can gather outdoors will be a big help, too. Conway and his team are getting the restaurant’s rooftop bar ready in anticipation of more customers and private events.

“There is nothing that brings people together like food and drinks, so to be smack in the middle of it so to see the restrictions lift, man it’s just exciting,” said Conway.

Conway said his team will continue implementing safety measures at the restaurant, acknowledging people will seek a sense of health safety and security when they venture out to his restaurant.

“Even with the restrictions lifting, the way we view things is different,” said Conway.

For Conway, the eased restrictions signal there are better days ahead.

Nick Seretis, the owner of the Orapax restaurant in Norfolk is relieved about the eased restrictions, too. 

"Very welcome news for restaurants and bars," said Seretis. "As far as face masks are concerned, I could see restaurant employees continuing to wear masks for several months after restaurants open 100 percent. I would hope by the end of summer everything goes back to normal."

Northam said the new measures will stay in place for a month. If the Commonwealth stays on the right track, he said he’ll ease more restrictions in April.

Until then, he urges people not to let their guards down.

“We hope that with trends continuing as they are, that we can look at further steps in the coming months,” said Northam. “For now, everyone needs to continue doing the things that we know work: social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands.”