Oelwein City Council amended a local ordinance that may help downtown establishments that serve food recover some lost revenue due to pandemic restrictions.
At Monday’s meeting, the Council approved temporary expansion of rules for sidewalk cafés in the downtown business district. Changes to the original ordinance include temporarily allowing alcohol to be served during normal business hours with a 10 p.m. limit, with proper licensing from the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.
The change to rules will also allow qualifying businesses (those that saw at least 50 percent of last year’s revenues from the sale of food and beverage), to operate a sidewalk café all day and up until 10 p.m. Sidewalk cafés can also play music that follows all local noise ordinances.
The Council also said it would revisit the results of this temporary expansion of rules next year and if the city experiences no issues with the temporary changes, a new ordinance could be drafted in the spring of 2021.
Downtown businesses interested in expanding their service area to include some outdoor seating will need to pay a $25 annual fee, provide proof of insurance and draw up a rough sketch of their proposed sidewalk café.
The outdoor cafés must be contiguous and have direct access to the licensed food establishment with which they are associated. The city retains the right to limit the number of permits issued and also to terminate a permit if terms are violated.
In presenting the expansion to the ordinance Monday night, City Administrator Dylan Mulfinger said, “The original ordinance for sidewalk cafés was too restrictive to help any of the downtown businesses. This trial run for 2020 should be a welcome relief to business owners who want to expand dining options during the pandemic.”
“I think it’s a good option,” said Deb Kellogg-Rummel, of Delish @ Decades. “When it’s a nice day, people want to sit in the sun. They can get their food and take it outside to enjoy the day.”
Kellogg-Rummel said she and her daughter and co-owner Ziana Glew have talked about this idea before. Now that the Council has expanded the rules, they may look into it further as a seating option. She said Delish has been closed to indoor service since the government mandated shutdown in mid-March, because it is a small area to begin with and would not be worth it to try and reconfigure seating for only a couple of tables. Delish has operated as a carry-out and curbside pickup food business 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays the past three months.
“Everyone has been fine with the carry-out business, but having a couple of tables outside is a nice idea,” she said.
Miguel Hernandez, owner of Hacienda del Rio in the Hotel Mealey, said it is a great idea. When he originally planned the renovation of his restaurant in Oelwein there were plans for a small patio space near the front entrance. Now he says he will check into all the rules and regulations first and then decide if it is a possibility for his Mexican restaurant in Oelwein. He said it would be a good way to add a little more seating area since that is currently restricted in the restaurant.
Residents who enjoy the sidewalk café experience will be watching to see if their favorite eatery adds some outdoor seating for customers in the coming weeks.