The Porch navigates open-air seating rules under Inslee’s Recovery plan


Casey Rothgeb

Under phase two of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Roadmap to Recovery, indoor dining is allowed at 25% capacity.

Libby Williams, Staff Reporter

Restaurant owners have juggled staying afloat and following rules within the phases of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Roadmap to Recovery. The Porch Bar and Grill has the tools necessary to remain open with multiple large garage doors for ventilation, but whether or not every rule is being followed was a gray area.

Co-owner of The Porch Ashley Arnes said readapting multiple times over the last year has been a struggle, especially when indoor dining was completely prohibited and carryout was the only option.

“The second shutdown started, and we decided we would try opening all our garage doors, having an open air concept, which was our interpretation of essentially outdoor seating,” Arnes said. “We got to roll with that for maybe two or three weeks, and we got a visit from the liquor control board because they were working in conjunction with [Washington State Department of Labor and Industries].” 

The Porch was once again forced to only offer outdoor seating.

A staff member at The Porch, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal at work, said the garage doors haven’t been completely open since the start of the new mandate. They said at the beginning of the day, the doors would be open about six feet off the ground. But customers were complaining about the cold, so owners would close them.

“[Customers were] kind of just taking for granted that they were inside a restaurant, not sitting outside in the snow,” the staff member said. 

Besides customers not acknowledging the risk, the staff member said other staff members haven’t been keeping up with the rules.

“No one in the kitchen wears masks,” they said. “There’s no liability, no one’s taking rules for what they should be and it’s just very frustrating.”

Arnes said all employees are required to wear masks, but the staff member said this rule is scarcely reinforced. They said other staff members are also frustrated, but no one has spoken out, because they don’t want to risk unemployment.

At the time of these interviews,  Kittitas County had been in phase one of Inslee’s Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery. Under “eating and drinking establishments,” the mandate states, “indoor dining prohibited. Outdoor dining, 11 p.m. close, maximum 6 per table.” 

As of Feb. 14, Inslee announced the south central region, which includes Kittitas County, will be advancing to phase two. Many regions had moved to phase two on Feb. 11, leaving the south central region as the only region still remaining in phase one. A computing error with hospital data kept the region in phase one.

Arnes said that around this time, the restaurant was granted permission to allow indoor seating as long as the garage doors were open. At the time of the interview, all of the garage doors were completely closed.

“This is actually the first day that we’ve had them closed,” Arnes said. “The only reason is I think it might be 30 degrees outside.”

The anonymous staff member said they understand how difficult it is to be a restaurant owner during these times, but also said they ultimately want people to know the truth and the risks involved.

“I know that at a lot of places in this town, it’s really hard to find work … so I’m more just appreciative of the spot I’m in right now,” the staff member said. “[But] to not follow rules and mandates when there’s a global pandemic going on, it’s very frustrating to work with and to see every day … it’s gotten to the point that they’re kind of flushing the rules down the toilet, because no one within Kittitas County cares.”