CHEROKEE COUNTY — In wake of Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to lift many of the state’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions, Cherokee County restaurants are deciding whether to continue to require staff to wear masks and spread tables.

The executive order issued by the governor went into effect Saturday. The order lifted the state requirement that restaurant employees wear masks, and any remaining distance minimums for tables and chairs.

“It was their choice”

In light of this, some owners and managers at Cherokee County’s restaurants said they would let staff decide whether they wanted to wear a mask.

William “Bub-Ba” Latimer, co-owner of The Salty Mule seafood restaurant in downtown Canton, said wearing a mask will be a choice moving forward.

“For us, we told our staff it was their choice rather they wear a mask at work or not,” he said. “We tell our customers the same thing, if they want to wear a mask they are more than welcome to. We want to be mindful and conscious of everyone at the restaurant.”

Latimer added that his restaurant opened in February with spaced-out seating by six feet as a way to make customers feel safe. Co-owner Scott Melton said as a result of the executive order, the tables are now closer together, but still somewhat socially distanced.

Anna Daily, co-owner of Rootstock, said she is leaving it up to her staff to decide whether to wear a mask.

“Wearing a mask was necessary, but it affected the way we performed on a day to day basis and altered the way we connected with our guest,” she said. “Our business is based upon connecting with guests, and with masks, it’s been difficult to do that.”

Daily said that since the executive order went into effect Saturday, morale has gotten better and the business is starting to return to a sense of normalcy.

“We’ve been able to go back to our formula and I think it will help our business improve over time,” she said. “Moving forward, wearing a mask will be a choice for staff and customers. This gives everyone the opportunity to do what they want to do and feel comfortable, while allowing us to conduct business how we normally would.”

Daily added that the restaurant followed social distancing guidelines throughout last year and this year, and that within the last few weeks the restaurant started allowing full capacity as the rooftop opened and spring weather came along. The restaurant will continue to run at full capacity, she said.

“Playing it by ear”

Others are not their lifting safety protocols just yet.

Shelly Farrar, owner of Riverstone Corner Bistro, said they are planning to have staff members wear a mask for “a little bit longer,” she said. Farrar plans to keep a mask policy in place for her staff until more information is gathered.

“We are waiting for the Cherokee County Health Department to give us the OK,” she said. “We haven’t really discussed what we are going to do yet with a mask policy because we want to get confirmation on what we can and can’t do from the county. The plan for right now is to go a little bit longer with masks because we want to make our guests and staff feel as safe and comfortable as possible.”

Farrar said most of the staff has gotten vaccinated, so she is “playing it by ear.”

“I want to be cautious with this decision, but it would be nice to not have to wear a mask in the summer, and for our kitchen staff to not have to wear a mask,” she said. “That kitchen gets hot, so I’ll be happy to make them more comfortable. Again, we are going to do the best we can and come up with a decision soon.”

Farrar added that the bistro no longer has social distancing guidelines in place as a result of the order.

Nykki Mitchell, manager of Salt Factory in downtown Woodstock, will also have her staff continue to wear masks.

“I would be happy to be done with the mask,” Mitchell said. “I want to be able to see everyone’s faces again like how we used to. With that being said though, I do understand taking precautions because there are people out there susceptible to the virus, and because of this, our staff will continue to wear masks for the foreseeable future.”

Mitchell added she wants to see how the situation develops, because safety is what’s most important.

Spencer Nix, owner of Reformation Brewery, said the executive order is just one factor of making decisions concerning masks and spacing.

“We haven’t made any official policy changes yet pertaining to masks and spacing,” he said. “We are taking in several factors, as well as the executive order, so right now we haven’t made a decision.”

Nix said that his staff are still required to wear a mask and the policy will remain until further notice. He added that staff from all three Reformation Brewery locations took part in a poll to gather ideas and opinions on staff wearing masks or not.

The brewery owner said that table and chair spacing will still be in effect until more feedback is gathered from staff.

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Ethan is a reporter covering the cities of Holly Springs & Canton. He also covers city governments and lifestyle. He is a graduate of Kennesaw State University.

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