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Memphis restaurant owner voluntarily re-implements mask mandate, limited seating capacity

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 5:31 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As we begin to see new masking guidelines coming from places like the Shelby County Schools, one Memphis restaurant decided to voluntarily re-implement a mask mandate of its own.

Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe made the announcement on its Facebook page early Wednesday morning.

From the Desk of Chef Tam , In an effort to keep everyone as safe as possible , with the Delta Variant raging all...

Posted by Chef Tam's Underground Cafe on Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Owner, Tamra Patterson “Chef Tam” tells customers that masks will be worn inside the restaurant, even at the table until the food arrives, and seating capacity will be limited.

Patterson says she can’t, in good conscience, seat her restaurant off Union Avenue at max capacity with the risk that a seemingly fine customer could be asymptomatic with COVID-19.

“I’m two seconds away from ‘Hey baby. You coming in? Go wash your hands first.’ ‘Take off your shoes.’ That kind of thing,” Patterson joked, talking about giving customers that “grandma love.”

Chef Tam’s is adjusting its hours to 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Its main dining area seats around 125, and with its new guidelines it will only seat around 60 at a time.

“Now, that might seem really crazy to any other business owner, and I get it because you’re in business to make money,” Patterson said. “The rationale has to be ‘if people are sick and they can’t come, what good is your business anyway?’.”

Patterson knows she’s in the minority on this.

Restaurant owners like Kelly English say they won’t implement their own guidelines unless the health department mandates it.

“If cases rise to the point where they say we need a mask mandate, we’re not going to fight that one bit, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re balancing the proper things to have people earn a living,” English said.

English mentioned that he had just recently met with ten other Memphis restaurant owners to talk about a list of concerns, mainly revolving around how to better take care of customers and staff during the short and long-term period.

“We’re all on this unsure sea right now,” English said, talking about the restaurant community being in this ‘boat’ together. “We’ve had to pivot all year long, doing different things, and we’ve got to keep our options open on different pivots we’re going to have to do. We just want people to bear with us; we want (customers) to be happy while they’re here.”

Back at Chef Tam’s, Patterson says only one guest has had a problem with the new policy, so far, but everyone else has been happy to adapt.

As we understand it, it’s food worth waiting a little longer for.

“The doors haven’t stopped chiming,” Patterson said.

While she acknowledges the financial toll this could have on her restaurant, Patterson told us she has no intention of letting go of any staff at Chef Tam’s.

Everyone will be keeping their same hours.

At the very least, she’s prepared to keep these guidelines in place until the end of the year, pending how this surge of new COVID-19 cases progresses.

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