'It was not responsible to put our staff in jeopardy.' Flea St. Cafe halts outdoor dining in Menlo Park | Peninsula Foodist | Elena Kadvany | Almanac Online |

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'It was not responsible to put our staff in jeopardy.' Flea St. Cafe halts outdoor dining in Menlo Park

Uploaded: Jun 27, 2020
After a week of cautious outdoor dining service, Flea St. Cafe in Menlo Park is reverting to a takeout-only operation, citing concerns about the recent uptick in coronavirus cases.

"We made a commitment at the onset of this pandemic to be conservative and ultra-cautious,” reads an email the restaurant sent out on Saturday. "We put the safety of our staff, with responsibility to them and their families, above all else. Due to recent concerning and upward trends in the virus we've respectfully made the decision to immediately close our outdoor patio for full service."

Customers eating outside at Flea St. Cafe on a recent evening with compostable plates and utensils and a tray to maintain some separation between the waiter and diners. Photo courtesy Jesse Cool.

Flea St. had gone beyond public health recommendations in its approach to outdoor dining, including using only compostable plates and utensils, asking diners to serve and bus their own tables and checking customers' temperatures if they went inside to use the bathroom. The goal was reduce as much contact between employees and customers as possible, particularly given most customers weren’t wearing masks while dining.

After "a lot of restless nights," however, owner Jesse Cool and partner Michael Biesemeyer decided to halt outdoor dining, Cool said.

"We decided it was not responsible to put our staff in jeopardy with guests unmasked," she said.

She said it was impossible for staff to provide table service and still keep the required 6 feet away from diners. They worried about the potential risk of cross contamination.

"We appreciate that the public is relieved and excited to get back to some kind of normal," Cool said. "It was not easy, a great loss of revenue, but, for us, no other option if we are truly keeping Flea Street and our staff as safe as possible."

Flea St. will continue to serve takeout and allow customers to eat their to-go food at the outdoor tables, but with no wait service. There will also be live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Cool also plans to revive breakfast dishes from Late for the Train, the Menlo Park restaurant she opened with her then-husband Bob Cool in 1976, including tamarind potatoes, eggs pipérade and chilaquiles. People will be able to pick up breakfast items in the evenings for reheating at home the next morning.

Despite the fact that San Mateo County has allowed restaurants to resume indoor dining, with many local owners eager to serve more customers in person after months of takeout, Cool doesn't anticipate opening the Flea St. dining room any time soon.

Taking care of diners is "paramount," Cool said, but not enough attention is being paid to the risks for restaurant workers.

"We all want our business back to where we can take care of our beloved guests," she said. "But at what risk and what cost to the food industry?"
What is it worth to you?


Posted by A Good Call, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jun 28, 2020 at 9:50 am

With Covid-19 on the upswing, a return to Phase 1 is probably necessary as an added safety precaution...at least for the time being.

Unfortunately much of the younger generation (as well as countless red-state residents) has not been practicing safe distancing as many are restless and bored with SIP mandates.

Partying, going to a bar and/or dining at a restaurant should be low priorities during this time of pandemic crisis but stupid is as stupid does.

Kudos to Flea Street Cafe for their efforts towards protecting the health of both their patrons and staff.

Posted by No going back, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 28, 2020 at 10:03 am

A good call-- why go back to stage 1?? Let's have. total and complete shutdown. Anyone caught outside will be shot. Close every essential business as well.
forget about the economic, mental health and domestic abuse issues that have come about due to the lockdown.
We are not doing too bad here in the Bay Area, due to people actually following the rules.
Of course, there will be an uptick every time we loosen regulations.
ANd BTW the uptick in hospitalizations that everyone is in a tizzy about in SCC is due to the county taking in patients from other counties and people choosing to hospitalize in SCC.

Posted by Brenda, a resident of Midtown,
on Jun 28, 2020 at 3:16 pm

As I agree that we all should be practicing safe distancing and wearing proper coverings to help prevent the spread of this Corona virus it's vital to everyone that uses common sense that if you are sick STAY HOME!

However while I was at the emergency room three days ago with a friend I noticed that we were in and out in about under an hour! There wasn't a ton of people. It surly wasn't crowded from all the sick. Normally from past experience when the emergency room is super busy you wait hella long.
Yes I think that this supposed pandemic is important but I truly don't think it is as bad as it's being made to sound.
If everyone has been paying attention to the president then you'd know that this is all part of what he wanted to do awhile back which was a economic shutdown and what better was to do that......using this virus as a way of doing just that!
Come on people open your eyes it's all about control and how many the government can control.
A family member recently passed we were told it was of COVID-19 and you know what that was a lie because he was already very sick with other heath issues and died because he was old. Now wether or not you pass because you really have gotten the virus or not when you die that's what is going to be put down on paper. You could die of a car accident and there going to put a reasoning that has to do with the COVID-19 virus instead of you died on impact.
My point is it's all just part of what trump wanted to do long ago and that was shut everything down for his own personal gain. He does not care nor will he ever.

Posted by A Principled Stand, a resident of Community Center,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 11:33 am

From a principal woman.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is a correct and brave decision - Thank you Jesse.

I predict the same will start to happen on the Santa Cruz Plaza unless the City starts enforcing the rules that were a condition of the new permits that the City issued. It is irresponsible to issue permits with conditions and then not enforce those conditions.

The tables on Santa Cruz are much closer than the rules allow and pickups are being directed to the same entrance as diners in disregard for the rules.

If the Santa Cruz Plaza is not managed to be the safest outdoor dining experience patrons will go elsewhere or stay home. And the takeout business will fall way off if we are forced to mingle with others to make our pickups.

Is anybody listening????

Posted by John , a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 3:12 pm

An uptick in cases? Maybe in Los Angeles and Orange County but not around here.

Latest county data shows a very low positive test rate (2.2% on 6/29, down from a "high" of 5/5% a few days ago). These are way below national levels and well under the 10% threshold deemed acceptable by most medical personnel.

Hospitalizations are even better, at lowest levels in months.

Maybe they realized that the point of coming to a restaurant is NOT to bus your own tables!

Posted by Reading Between the Lines, a resident of Whisman Station,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 3:16 pm

They're continuing to provide dining, just without waiters. This sounds like they're trying to cut costs on staff while spinning it as a safety move. Why pay staff $15/hr when they provide no incremental value with outdoor seating?

Posted by Palo Alto, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 8:17 pm

Palo Alto is a registered user.

Yes @Reading Between the Lines, she is being disingenuous. And that is not helpful.

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