Annapolis businesses gear up for ‘long, cold winter’ with outdoor tents, heaters

Boatyard Bar & Grill owner Dick Franyo speaks with guests. Restaurants, like the Boatyard Bar & Grill in Eastport, have built tents at their establishment, to help serve customers safely during the time of coronavirus.

The big white tent outside Boatyard Bar & Grill has been there for months during the coronavirus pandemic, a necessary addition to the Eastport restaurant’s facade, making up for lost capacity inside. Recently, owner Dick Franyo has added two heaters to the tent, with two more on the way, as winter approaches and temperatures dip.

This is the next phase in Annapolis restaurants' ongoing struggle to stay open and operating during the pandemic — renting expensive tents and heaters to avoid losing the outdoor capacity that has helped some businesses survive the last eight months. Yet, some have already closed for good, while others are mulling whether to shut down until spring.


“It’s going to be a long, cold winter,” Franyo said. “I hope we all make it.”

To help guide restaurants over the coming weeks, the City of Annapolis issued an executive order last month, allowing all businesses that have approved outdoor space to erect tents or other structures during the winter months. Executive Order No. 19, signed on Oct. 16 by acting Mayor Elly Tierney, D-Ward 1, requires that businesses apply for Sidewalk Cafe Permits and/or a Recovery Zone application to be eligible.


Since March, 26 tent permits have been granted to businesses, said Sally Nash Planning and Zoning Director.

The executive order also requires an electrical permit to be procured if a heater or lighting is used. It lays out other use and installation requirements, too. At least nine businesses have plans for including heaters, Nash said.

The Department of Planning and Zoning is currently working on updating the guidelines to align with those laid out by County Executive Steuart Pittman, Nash said. A draft of the new guidelines includes requirements like having at least two sides of a tent open to airflow to be considered outdoor dining. Fully enclosed tents would limit seating to 50%, the current maximum capacity allowed in Anne Arundel County for indoor dining.

There are several factors restaurant and food-service businesses must consider over the next several months, Franyo said. Chief among them is keeping staff on payroll to avoid cutting them loose in the middle of a pandemic.

“Most people were viable and were able to keep employees on payroll [during warmer months],” he said. “God forbid, we have to lay off people again.”

Another issue is space — both inside and out. Since the spring, restaurants have relied on outdoor dining to offset the lost seating capacity inside as state and local officials imposed limits to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some restaurants won’t reach 50% capacity without outdoor dining due to space limitations inside and the additional requirement of keeping six feet distance, Franyo said.

Outdoors, some places don’t the same luxury afford to those clustered around places like Market Space. The businesses there have enough room to erect a group of winterized tents and heaters, a configuration set up this week, said Kyle Algaze, owner of Iron Rooster.

“We knew going into the month of November that we were all going to have to switch over to having a more permanent outdoor tent space. So everyone will have that capability,” Algaze said. “The bigger concern is that our people that are not wanting to dine indoors are going to stay away from the outdoor tent space as well.”


Late last month, Pittman announced a slew of initiatives to help restaurants and other food-related businesses, including an executive order to streamline the permitting process for those who want to install a tent outside their business.

If restaurants follow county regulations, “it should be as OK as they currently are,” said County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, but “Bars and restaurants are still a higher risk activity.”

The timeline to apply and be accepted for a tent permit has been cut from about 10 days to under a week, said Tracie Reynolds, spokesperson for the Department of Inspections and Permits. So far, about 24 tent permits have been approved in the county, most of which are for outdoor seating at restaurants, she said.

Restaurants and foodservice businesses hurt by the pandemic can apply for up to $10,000 in aid under a new program through the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. The application portal is set to go live at 9 a.m. Friday, said Anita Dewling, a business development associate.

For now, the economic development corporation is available to help connect restaurant owners with any other resources they need, Dewling said.

Additionally, some people are still wary of sitting indoors, Algaze said. He and Franyo both said they plan to rely on carryout options to market to customers, a strategy used by many restaurants and bars early in the pandemic. Algaze compared his approach to “jumping from lily pad to lily pad.”


“While the waves are getting rocky, we stay on that lily pad, and then when we see the next ability to move and evolve, that’s what we do," he said.

On West Street, Sarah Cahalan, who runs 49 West, a coffee shop, wine bar and music venue, weighs whether to stay open at all or fight through to spring. She has applied for a tent permit with the city and is waiting for approval, though she hasn’t made a final decision about whether she will use it.

Time will tell, said Cahalan, whose shop is less than two months away from its 25th anniversary on Dec. 27. She owns it with her husband, Brian Cahalan, a member of the Buckley administration.

“I would love to make it that far and stay in business and stay afloat," she said.

Franyo, who co-chaired the Annapolis small business task force established to help guide the city’s economic recovery effort, said it remains to be seen how his heated tents will work as temperatures drop. It costs about $5,000 per month to rent a tent and heaters.

“It’s fine at 55 degrees, not sure about 30,” he said.