Prince George’s Co. restaurants worry for future amid indoor dining bans

Business is down at Franklin’s, in Hyattsville, Maryland, but the owner is only angry at people who don’t follow the rules. (WTOP/John Domen)

For 28 years, Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery and General Store has been a staple in downtown Hyattsville, Maryland. But were it not for federal pandemic relief loans, owner Mike Franklin would have had to close the doors last year.

Franklin said he’ll need another one to make it to this fall, when he thinks things might get better. If he doesn’t land one, he said, “it’s going to be very difficult.”

Even if he makes it through, he thinks the way his restaurant operates will be changed for a long time coming — with fewer people dining close together indoors and, if the city and state allow it, more people taking advantage of his outdoor “Quarantiki Room,” which sits underneath an overpass next to some railroad tracks.

Franklin wasn’t the least bit surprised that the ban on indoor dining in Prince George’s County wasn’t allowed to lapse this weekend. He also doesn’t think it’ll lapse at the new expiration date of Jan. 29.

They’re trying outdoor seating at Franklin’s. (WTOP/John Domen)

“It’s very frustrating. I support it, but it’s, from a business point of view, very difficult,” Franklin said. “It brings us back to the worst days of March and April. … It’s not sustainable for us.”

Franklin said he isn’t blaming local government leaders for the move — he’s been watching the numbers and understands the reality. And he tries to block out the knowledge that some restaurants a half-hour away are allowed to have some customers inside.

“We have been trying our best to follow all the protocols, so any anger I have is directed to the people who don’t follow all the science and all the announcements about what to do safely and what not to do,” Franklin said.

Both he and Theresa Thompson, who owns the Old Town Bowie Grille, said they’ve done everything right, and that not a single COVID-19 infection has been traced back to their business.

At the Old Bowie Town Grill, they’re grateful for the regulars who make a point of ordering takeout at least once a week. (WTOP/.John Domen)

“I really thought, truly thought, they would let us go at least 25%,” Thompson said. That would have meant a dining room with up to 12 people and a bar area with four people. It’s not a lot, but “it’s at least something,” she said.

Thompson said business is down sharply, but would be even worse if a steady stream of repeat customers weren’t so dedicated to ordering at least once a week.

“The Bowie community and surrounding area has been very good to us,” she said. “People make it a point … to come have dinner or carryout once a week.”

With restaurants in neighboring Crofton allowed to seat at least a few diners inside, she said she can’t help feel somewhat punished for doing things the right way.

“I’m trying to keep my staff paid,” Thompson said. “It’s getting intense just to keep our doors open.”

With Valentine’s Day looming, and then St. Patrick’s Day, which is her restaurant’s busiest single day of every year, allowing customers back inside will provide a much-needed jolt that she missed last year when they had to close right before St. Patrick’s Day.

“It’s not fair for certain counties to be open and certain counties not,” Thompson said. “But even 25% — 25% is better than nothing.”

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