Restaurateur Willie Degel says he plans to wait to reopen Georgia location when restrictions lift

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Food Network star Willie Degel said Thursday he does not plan to immediately open his restaurant in Georgia when the state’s coronavirus-related restrictions on his business are relaxed next week. 

“Being that we’re more of a middle-serve, finer-dining restaurant, I’m going to wait on the sidelines and see how the customers are reacting,” Degel said on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.” 

Degel, the owner of Uncle Jack’s Meat House in Duluth, Georgia, said the company has conducted outreach to customers through emails and an online poll to gauge their thoughts on reopening. 

The majority of people indicated they would be hesitant to dine in right away, he said, though some indicated they’d be willing to order takeout. 

About 35% to 40% said they would be ready to eat in with additional space between tables and other extra safety measures in place, Degel said. He said he viewed that level of support, at this point, as a positive sign. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced earlier this week that restrictions on businesses would be lifted on Friday. Tattoo parlors, gyms and hair salons can reopen then, if they adhere to social distancing and sanitary requirements. Starting Monday, restaurants can begin serving restricted dine-in meals and movie theaters can start selling tickets. 

Many public health officials have criticized Georgia’s moves as being too soon, arguing they could lead to a second wave of Covid-19 infections. 

Uncle Jack’s Meat House in Duluth, Georgia.

Uncle Jack’s Meat House

Degel, who also owns Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse and Uncle Jack’s Meat House restaurants in New York City, said he plans to closely monitor the first two weeks after restrictions are lifted. If his Georgia restaurant were to open, Degel said staff and customers would have to wear personal protective equipment. 

“We’re talking about masks. We’re talking about sanitizing the entire restaurant on a daily, weekly basis with an exterminating company,” Degel said. 

The restaurant would also get new “no touch” door handles, he said, and the business would take the temperature of every worker and guest.

“We have to win the trust of the staff and the guests as well, so the people who love the brand … understand we’re doing everything in our power to protect them and the staff as well,” said Degel, whose show on the Food Network, “Restaurant Stakeout,” is no longer produced. 

Earlier Thursday, Diane Fall, who owns a barbershop in Decatur, Georgia, told CNBC she also would not be opening her business even though restrictions will soon be lifted. 

“I’m just not prepared to do this,” Fall said, adding she has had difficulties obtaining some of the supplies needed to meet safety requirements. 

Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan defended the state’s plans Wednesday, telling CNBC businesses are not mandated to reopen. “This is not forcing anybody back to business,” Duncan said on “Closing Bell.”

Degel said he believes Kemp and Georgia leadership are “somehow trying to get something started” by lifting restrictions. “We the people, the customers, the owners, have to adapt,” he said.

Degel added the devastation caused by Covid-19 has been tragic, but he said he is trying to be optimistic about how the U.S. will recover. 

Wearing masks and robust sanitation measures may be “our new norm,” he said. “But I have to believe that our great minds are going to do everything to solve this virus. They do come every so many generations … and we’ve prevailed before. I believe we’ll prevail again.” 

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