PASO ROBLES — Greg and Cheryl Snell celebrated the anniversary of their first date by having dinner in the Downtown City Park on Thursday.

The Creston couple purchased food from Fish Gaucho just like they did five years ago. Only instead of dining in, they took it to-go, packed it in their picnic basket and walked a block to the park, where a face-cover wearing concierge seated them at their farmhouse-style table.

They happily chatted and enjoyed dinner at the Downtown City Park Dining Experience.

“It went really well. It was a nice evening,” Greg said with a smile.

“This is a brilliant idea. It was super cool,” Cheryl added.

The couple said they “didn’t feel really comfortable” staying in the restaurant and besides it was a beautiful evening, why not eat outside in the park.

Greg remembered that dining in the park was an option. A quick search on his smartphone confirmed it was happening and minutes later, he reserved a table.

“It was very simple,” he said. “There was a link directly to the Yelp page. It gives you 15-minute intervals for dining times. It asks for your name and telephone number or email. And that was it. Very, very easy.”

People eat in the Downtown City Park during the Downtown City Park Dining Experience. Photo by Brian Williams

The Snell’s experience was just what organizers had in mind when setting this up a couple of weeks ago as the state and county began reopening following the COVID-19 stay-home orders.

“The goal was to encourage locals, SLOcals and those returning visitors to come to our Downtown, enjoy the community of Paso and feel safe doing it,” said Travel Paso Executive Director Stacie Jacob. “Creating a Downtown dining space allows restaurants who have had to cut capacity by more than 50% a way to keep their take-out business going strong.”

The Downtown City Park Dining Experience begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. People can grab takeout, including cocktails, beer or wine, and reserve for free one of the many private tables in the park’s shaded dining section near the Paso Robles Carnegie Library. Upon arriving at the park, they are met by a concierge who guides them to their reserved sanitized table. Each physically distanced table has comfy seating. Overhead bistro lights complete the mood.

Community partners — Travel Paso, Paso Wine, Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce and Paso Robles Downtown Main Street Association are spearheading this program.

All About Events donated the furniture and lighting. Fence Factory did the fencing around the perimeter. Red Oak is providing security and Criu Hospitality runs day-to-day operations with a concierge and sanitizing team to ensure a safe, clean space for the community to dine out.

The program is fully funded through private donations.

“A huge thank you to everyone who has supported this,” Jacob said.

The dining space kicked off on June 18 and is scheduled to run through Sept. 6.

Jacob said the reception has been, “Outstanding. We are averaging 500 guests each weekend with room to grow.”

The Snells said they hope this continues for years to come.

“Absolutely. The park is pretty. The weather is good. Why not,” Greg said, with Cheryl enthusiastically nodding in agreement. “They thought it through and they did a nice job.”

Jacob said everyone is pleased with how it’s going.

“Everyone is focused on keeping our community and its small businesses going strong as we deal with the impacts of the pandemic,” she said. “It’s great to see the many ways our City Park can be utilized for celebrations, community gatherings, crisis and now a pandemic.”

For more information on the Downtown City Park Dining Experience, visit https://pasowine.com/events/downtown-city-park-dining-experience/. To reserve a table, visit www.yelp.com/reservations/downtown-city-park-paso-robles.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles