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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

November 23, 2020

Restaurants look to air purifiers, sanitizers as winter hits

The end of patio weather brings renewed focus on indoor safety

The dining room at Alchemy in South End with tables spaced far apart. Kristen Wile/UP

During the summer and as pleasant fall temperatures hit, restaurant patios across town were getting improvements. Now, however, as the weather gets colder, restaurant owners are turning their attention back to their inside dining rooms. Social distancing between tables appears to be the norm in dining rooms for the foreseeable future, but owners are finding more ways to keep diners safe this winter amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Alchemy, a new restaurant in South End that’s part of creative hub C3 Labs, had plenty of time to prepare their restaurant for dining amid a pandemic. They were battling construction delays as the coronavirus spread, changing the way we dine before they even opened their doors.

“We kind of had to sit back a little bit and try to stay ahead of the curve,” owner Glen Nocik says.

As Alchemy’s opening pushed later into the year, the staff created a custom hand sanitizer. Each server holds a spray bottle, and offers guests the chance to take a spray when they are seated. The blend is made with essential oils, giving it a pleasant scent in addition to killing any germs. Alchemy was also among the earliest restaurants to purchase UV light sanitation air filters, also called air scrubbers. 

Air is pumped into the system, and as it travels through, it is hit with UV rays, killing any airborne viral particles before sending the air back out into the dining room. Owner Glen Nocik says they have two of the filters, Sanitaire UV Air Sanitizers, and they can be moved as needed. Because of high demand, the filters took more than a month and a half to arrive, but were in the dining room before Alchemy opened its doors. 

Another popular air filter is The Molekule, which works in a similar way to Sanitaire’s products and runs up to $1,200 for a filter that covers 1,000 square feet of space. The Crunkleton had one installed before the restaurant reopened its dining room at half capacity during Phase 2. 

“It’s done really great job of cleaning the air every night throughout the shift,” bar manager Ryan Hart says. 

To keep fresh air flowing into her restaurant, chef and co-owner Ashley Boyd is looking into purchasing an air curtain, which would let her staff keep the front door open at 300 East without exorbitant heating expenses, though customers have already complained about cold air from the door being propped open. She plans to keep the kitchen doors ajar, as well.

As dining moves back inside from the patio boom, restaurants are remaining vigilant about social distancing, monitoring mask-wearing among guests who aren’t seated, and extra sanitation to do their part to ensure their dining rooms don’t have to close down again and keep people safe. 

“The first thing on my mind right now is we’ve been doing a good job keeping everyone healthy and I just don’t want to move into a spot where we’re compromised in that regard,” Boyd says. “We’ll use a combination of things to try to keep things safe around here.”

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