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Oregon restaurants pivot again as new indoor dining restrictions take effect

Starting Friday, indoor dining will be prohibited at restaurants in 15 Oregon counties for at least the next week.

PORTLAND, Oregon — At Mangiare Italian Restaurant in Independence, manager Chrystal Law is grateful for their spacious outdoor patio. With tables covered in red umbrellas, flanked by portable heaters, it's the only place where customers will be allowed to dine at the restaurant for at least the next week. 

Starting Friday, Polk County was one of 15 Oregon counties that Gov. Kate Brown pushed back to the extreme risk category, meaning no more indoor dining.

“It's very difficult for us and it's difficult for our customers,” said Law. “Friday night is traditionally our busiest night so this will kind of give us a good judge on how the next 10 days — maybe three weeks, hopefully not another three months — will go.”

For many Oregon restaurants, the fluctuating restrictions have felt like a guessing game that they're tired of playing.

RELATED: 15 Oregon counties move to extreme COVID-19 risk

“Honestly we're just so exhausted emotionally as an industry that there's kind of a deadened effect,” said Kurt Huffman, owner of Portland restaurant investment company, ChefStable. Their partner restaurants include Oven and Shaker, Lardo and St. Jack. Huffman said he feels the new restrictions placed on restaurants are inequitable, compared to what other industries are facing.

“You know when I can go to Costco or any other place and it's just packed full of people,” said Huffman, “[the governor’s restrictions] feel like more for show. It feels a little gratuitous frankly to us as an industry, but we're powerless so we just kind of keep pivoting.”

On Friday, Congressman Earl Blumenauer pointed to one way restaurants may be able to get help. He said owners need to register now in order to apply for federal grant money starting Monday. Blumenauer started work on the $28.6 billion Restaurant Relief Grant Program a year ago. He said in the first five hours they were able, more than 80,000 people had registered.

RELATED: 'I chose to save lives': Gov. Brown defends decision to move 15 counties to extreme risk

“It's imperative that every single person register first, then apply Monday at 9:00 a.m. because there's not a guarantee that there's going to be money that will be available later in the week,” said Blumenauer.

Back in Independence, Chrystal Law at Mangiare Italian Restaurant said they're still catching up after the first two shutdowns.

“We're operating on the thinnest staff that we possibly can, we've had to shorten our hours, we've had to cut out our lunch service,” she said.

But most of all, Law is grateful for those who've chosen to eat with them.

“Our regulars have supported us through all of this,” said Law. “Without them here, we wouldn't have made it through the last year.”