As we say goodbye to surprise April snowstorms, restaurants across Reading have been taking advantage of the nicer weather to open their doors and host outdoor dining at their restaurants. For restaurants that do not already have built-in areas to dine outdoors, they have to come before the Community Planning and Development Commission to apply for a Minor Site Review.
Five such restaurants have appeared before the Commission in the past two weeks to apply for new outdoor dining leases: Mandarin Reading, Fuddruckers, Christopher’s Restaurant, and the newly minted Cal’s Creamery and Cal’s Brick Oven Pizza.
For restaurants reapplying to conduct outdoor dining this year, they found the application process significantly different than the one that took place last year.
“This year was a little nerve-wracking because last year seemed so simple by comparison. It was a much easier application to fill out initially. After I submitted the application and a few supporting documents, I got an email saying, okay, I was good to go, and that I could start whenever the restaurant was ready. That was it,” said Haley Benitez, General Manager of the Fuddruckers in Reading.
This year, applicants had to fill out an initial application stating the project’s purpose and send it back to the town. Once the application was reviewed, applicants were then contacted by the CPDC to set up an initial Zoom call to answer any immediate questions the Commission had. After this, a second Zoom call was set up in which applicants had to present their plan in full and then answer questions from both the CPDC and residents who attended the meetings.
Christopher’s Restaurant, which held outdoor dining last summer, applied to bring two more two-person tables into their outdoor dining set-up, which is held on the raised platform outside of the restaurant. Before COVID-19, Christopher’s could seat up to 70 people inside of their restaurant. Currently, they can seat a maximum of 40 people inside and 26 people outside. The two new tables would be going towards the Bank of America site. Bill Cushing, who represented Christopher’s at the CPDC meeting on April 28, stated that both the neighboring Kumon and the Bank of America were aware that they would conduct outdoor dining again this year.
Mandarin Reading and Fuddruckers, which also held outdoor dining last year, applied to re-do their previous outdoor dining arrangements with no revisions.
Robert Lee, who represented Mandarin Reading, stated that the restaurant plans to conduct outdoor dining in the restaurant’s private parking lot, allowing for up to 32 people to sit outdoors at the restaurant’s eight outdoor tables. The restaurant plans to reduce their parking lot by eight spaces to give cars space to drive around where outdoor dining would be taking place. Lee was quick to point out the safety measures that the restaurant would put into place to separate diners from cars in the lot.
“[In the black planters in front of diners] We have put about 200 pounds of sand in each pot. They are connected with pressure-treated timber, which are construction grade. [To delineate between the outdoor dining and the parking lot] we have put five, 100% impact-resistant delineator posts,” said Lee.
Lee stated all the lanterns used in the outdoor dining set-up were solar-powered, so no new wiring was added to the site.
Fuddruckers applied to bring outdoor dining back to their site, which would allow 18 people to dine outside at the site’s five tables. The tables would be situated outside of Fuddruckers emergency exit. The site would not include any permanent structures, and staff would set up and take out the tables and chairs every day.
Neither Mandarin Reading nor Fuddruckers stated that they had any interest in continuing outdoor dining after the pandemic.
“It wasn’t a huge hit for us last year, honestly. What we saw, if anything, was people would order their food-to-go and then sit out here to eat. Other than that, it was mostly employees of the building sitting there during their breaks or people eating ice cream from Richardsons. I also think, due to the do-it-yourself nature of Fuddruckers, outdoor dining doesn’t give you the same experience,” said Benitez.
“We still prefer people sitting indoors, just so we can focus our service in one area. This is just a seasonal application. Once the pandemic is over, we will not do outdoor dining,” said Lee during his presentation.
In his presentation for Cal’s Creamery and Cal’s Brick Oven Pizza, Jared Palladino gave an overview of the yet-to-be open business, as well as his plans for outdoor dining.
“There’ll be two businesses: one is a homemade ice cream store, the other is a brick-oven pizzeria. Each business will have roughly 20 seats on the inside. The ice cream store will be opening probably as of next week, and the restaurant will follow about a month later. My plans for outdoor dining would just be to have the picnic tables outside for people to sit at once they purchase their food. We will not be serving anybody outside; it’s just solely for people to sit down and enjoy their food in the open air,” said Palladino.
Fuddruckers, Mandarin Reading, and Christopher’s have all been approved for outdoor dining at their establishments. Cal’s Brick Oven Pizza and Cal’s Creamery have been conditionally approved, on the condition that Palladino sends the CPDC a copy of the shared parking agreement between the two businesses and the neighboring business Harrow’s Chicken Pies.