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For Laurel restaurants, rough road and glimmers of hope amid coronavirus pandemic

After unexpectedly closing in mid-December, the Mad Cow Grill in Laurel had a line of customers outside its doors waiting to order takeout when it reopened mid-January. Now, after Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced restaurants could open for indoor dining at 25% capacity starting Jan. 29, Ed Reynoso, Mad Cow’s owner, is grateful for the reservations that are being taken.

“Now people don’t have to eat outside,” Reynoso said. “People want to be comfortable. When you have to wear your jacket, you’re not comfortable.”

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Since the coronavirus pandemic’s start in March, business has been “tough,” Reynoso said.

“We’re definitely less busy, especially as it is getting colder,” Reynoso said. “Having to cut back on staff especially; a lot of them need to work.”

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On a more personal level, Reynoso lost his mother in June to COVID-19. When he heard of the second wave of the pandemic coming, the decision to close the restaurant’s doors in December was easy.

“I wanted to make sure we were not out there helping it spike up,” Reynoso said. “It also allowed the staff to stay home during the holidays and New Year’s.”

Mad Cow Grill's patio has an enclosed tent and heaters for outdoor seating amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now with indoor dining available, things can only get better, said owner Ed Reynoso.
Mad Cow Grill's patio has an enclosed tent and heaters for outdoor seating amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now with indoor dining available, things can only get better, said owner Ed Reynoso. (Courtesy photo)

He did not expect the wave of customers who came out to support him when he reopened Mad Cow Grill’s doors. As both he and co-owner Neville Nugent were working in the restaurant’s kitchen, they did not monitor the crowd. The restaurant was forced to close its doors by the Prince George’s County Health Department for not practicing social distancing on Jan. 17.

“We are a lot more careful,” Reynoso said, noting that the restaurant has apps to order online and is part of the DoorDash delivery service. “We try not to have people in line if they don’t have to be. We want to make sure everyone stays safe.”

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With limited indoor seating allowed, customers will need to be patient, Reynoso said.

“It will be tough on guests, especially on weekends, when they see empty seats but we can’t seat you,” Reynoso said. “We want to make sure we’re careful what we do.”

At Olive on Main, only 15 people are allowed at a time, according to a server. Tampico Grill also has limited seats, and reservations are filling fast, according to manager Eduardo Cabrera.

Tampico Grill also has limited seats, and reservations are filling fast, according to manager Eduardo Cabrera.
Tampico Grill also has limited seats, and reservations are filling fast, according to manager Eduardo Cabrera. (Photo by Jon Sham)

“Carryout has been a big help,” Cabrera said, and the restaurant is available on all delivery apps. “We have attracted different markets. People from Columbia have come.”

Still, Cabrera is grateful to open the restaurant’s doors.

“We are happy it’s open.”

Mad Cow Grill also has had a steady takeout and delivery business, and its patio has an enclosed tent and heaters for outdoor seating. Now with indoor dining available, things can only get better, Reynoso said.

“It will eventually change to 50% and then 75% capacity,” Reynoso said. “There are a lot of smart people at the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. We need to be patient, wear a mask and be safe.”

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