TEMPLETON — McPhee’s Grill Chef-Owner Ian McPhee is asked daily when the iconic Templeton restaurant is going to reopen.
It’s a no-brainer for him — when his employees feel safe.
“There is so much going on and so much just trying to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong that you just got to take care of your people,” Ian said from the tidy upstairs office at the rear of the restaurant at 416 S. Main St. “First you have to take care of your employees and make sure that they are safe and OK with being here. And your next worry is going to be your customer. And then, after that, you just let your business run.”
The restaurant has been closed since March 18, when Gov. Gavin Newsom forced them to close and a day later issued the stay-at-home order.
A couple of weeks ago, restaurants in San Luis Obispo County reopened to dine-in but needed to follow the state and county social distancing guidelines, meaning most eateries were at less than half capacity.
Ian and his son, Max, are meeting with staff and gauging when to reopen. They will move forward when the team feels safe.
“I need to know that they are all the way on board,” Ian said. “If they aren’t, then we just stay closed until the end of July and see what happens.
“I have no problem with staying closed. I know we are OK,” Ian said. “As long as they are OK, then we are good. I get it.”
Ian opened McPhee’s Grill in 1994. The popular fine-dining restaurant features fresh seafood, wood-grilled steaks, local produce and gourmet pizza and pasta in an old converted saloon with contemporary country decor. It is open for lunch and dinner.
Ian said that when everything shut down, he immediately laid off his employees so they could quickly start getting unemployment.
“I think that is why we are one of the last dinner houses to come back because I just looked at my employees and felt like they were safe,” Ian said. “Some of them were making more than they would normally make. And then my family was safe. It just then became a point of let’s see what goes on.”
Reopening isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. People may think it is, but it’s costly and time-consuming.
“It’s funny to me how people think you just open the door,” Max said, adding that it costs thousands of dollars to restock and they will need four to five days of kitchen preparation. And training staff on the county, state and CDC guidelines will take time.
The dining room has undergone some cosmetic changes, mainly the addition of plexiglass on booths that allow for increased seating.
Without the plexiglass, Ian said they wouldn’t even be thinking about opening until more restrictions are lifted. Pre-COVID-19, McPhee’s had 35 tables and seating for 148. Under the guidelines, they can seat 92 at 20 tables.
“The day that Newsom said you could use dividers, all of a sudden we went from 11 tables to almost 20,” Ian said. “So now we are like at 20 and we have room out on the side of the building for more if we want, but I haven’t really decided on that. But now the numbers start to make some sense.”
Making all of this easier for Ian was receiving an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Ian said the EIDL process was frustrating, while PPP was a breeze due to his long-time relationship with Pacific Premier Bank.
He applied for EIDL in late March but did not receive anything until early June.
“It was really weird. It went on and on and on,” Ian said. “Until mid-May, I did not know where I was in this thing. I had filled out the application thing. They had hit my credit report once, but no word from them, nothing.”
Ian said he woke up one morning in early June and the EIDL money was in his account.
“That happened overnight. It was so bizarre,” he said.
With PPP and EIDL, the restaurant’s highest costs are covered for the next 5 to 6 months, Ian said.
All that remains is feeling out his staff and settling on a date to reopen.
“We are fine, so there is really no reason to take a risk at this point,” Ian said. “If my employees aren’t comfortable, then it’s not worth doing.”