By Shirelle Williams
Restaurant photos by Dan Dry
John Varanese photo by Charles Wallace
After 10 weeks, stay at home orders are lifting in Louisville as restaurants are allowed to open their doors for dine-in guests. Starting May 22, restaurants will be able to operate at 33% capacity inside. This will come as a relief for local businesses that have been restricted to takeout orders, curbside pick-ups and limited menu options. This opening decision comes as phase two of Kentucky’s reopening plan due to the coronavirus pandemic. Local favorites, River House Restaurant & Raw Bar and Varanese, will be among the restaurants welcoming guests back for indoor and outdoor dining. We had the opportunity to speak with Chef and Owner, John Varanese, who shared his thoughts on reopening.
What does it feel like to finally be able to open your doors to the public again?
Being a chef, I’m just happy to put food back on a plate again. Packing stuff up to go is pretty tough and it brings joy back into my life again to operate business the way it should be. It has felt like I’ve been in a surreal dream over the past 10 weeks. During that time, our days were not right, we weren’t operating our kitchen the way it should be, or the restaurant. It was a mental struggle every day, wondering if life would go back to normal. You get used to doing things a certain way, then you forget how to do it the old way. Ten weeks is a long time to break a habit.
What are you most excited about regarding reopening?
I’m most excited about preparing the first seafood. I’m excited for River House to bring in fresh and whole fish, and just having fresher products in general. We are looking forward to our local farmers coming, we haven’t seen them all year. I’m just looking forward to things getting back to normal and letting my creativity flow.
What is your biggest concern with reopening? Did you have any hesitations about reopening this weekend?
No, no hesitations. I’ve been itching to open back up since the beginning. The big challenge is only opening back up at 33% inside. Luckily, River House has expansive seating so we can soften some of that. My biggest anxiety is how much money is being lost weekly and monthly. Operating business every day, at this rate, can I sustain this long? Will we make enough to reach the other side?
What can customers expect to be different when dining with you now, as opposed to before COVID-19?
The only thing different will be the appearance inside, such as the table spacing and servers in masks and gloves. Small adjustments like salt and pepper shakers and sugar caddies will be removed from tables to prevent germs from spreading. Guests can also expect managers at the doors, helping to triage reservations. It will take away from the dining experience a little bit, but our restaurants are upscale. We’re always refined in our steps in service and what we offer. We have a great atmosphere and beautiful plate presentation, so customers can still expect a great dining experience.
For guests who are ready to venture out this weekend, River House offers a perfect outdoor dining option with its expansive patio overlooking the Ohio River. For guests who choose to dine inside, tables will be spaced six feet apart to accommodate the Kentucky Restaurant Guidelines set by Governor Andy Beshear. Private dining options are also available for parties of up to 10 people.
For guests who choose to visit Varanese, they will be greeted with live music by Jeff Sherman and his jazz band on the patio, among tables properly spaced. Private dining can also be reserved.
With restaurants only allowed to fill a third of their capacity seating in dining rooms, River House and Varanese will continue to offer curbside pickup. Special “comfort food” entrees will be added to the carryout menus as well. Due to reopening, River House’s curbside pickups will shift to 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. For those interested in their grocery selection, it will include a variety of meats, seafood, sides, soups, fresh produce and dairy products. An updated list is posted daily on riverhouselouisville.com. There is a $25 minimum order and a 10% service fee benefits hourly employees.
River House Restaurant & Raw Bar
3015 River Rd.
2106 Frankfort Ave.