‘Family of customers’: Cirino’s at Main Street plans to reopen next month
Closed since the coronavirus pandemic began, Cirino’s at Main Street is scheduled to reopen May 13.
“We will be the safest restaurant in Nevada County,” said owner Jerry Cirino. “There is no way we could have accomplished what we’ve done if we had been open the past 14 months.”
To reach that safety goal, Cirino said he has worked every day but one while the business was closed. On that one day, he welcomed a new grandbaby into the family.
The restaurant portion of the building remains closed and the bar area has been transformed into a restaurant. There are no bar stools, only dining booths. Shields along the bar are crafted from glass, not plexiglass. Other pandemic protocols include free face masks bearing the Cirino’s logo for customers who forget theirs. Menus are placed beneath glass tops on tables — the menus aren’t touched and the glass is sanitized regularly. Guests will enter through the bar door and exit through the restaurant door.
Then there are the snugs, which give Cirino’s the aura of a safe speakeasy.
Snugs were a tradition in old Irish pubs. The walled- or screened-off rooms provided privacy for those who didn’t want to be seen imbibing, as well as those with private business to conduct such as politicians, priests, and matchmakers.
“Our snugs are separated by glass panel shields,” Cirino said. “The entrance to each booth is capped by a curved headboard, and the curtains hang from that. Customers can choose to close the curtains for safety and privacy, or leave them open. Snugs provide a wonderful, comfortable environment in which to enjoy the dining experience.
“The curtains may go away post-pandemic, but I believe customers will demand the snugs stay,” added Cirino, who purchased special professional-grade equipment to sanitize the curtains.
“Jerry has done extensive work updating his restaurant footprint to incorporate protections for his patrons in the dining areas,” said Nevada County Environmental Health Director Amy Irani, whose department inspects restaurants for health and safety compliance. “He has invested an incredible amount of time and financial resources to implement the protections or snugs, and he is an exemplary model of the ideal retail food facility owner-operator. Wish I could clone him.”
‘I’VE GOT TO REOPEN’
Cirino’s at Main Street is a neighborhood hot spot, a favorite among tourists and locals. In The Union’s “Best of Nevada County” annual competition, Cirino’s has won in the categories of best bar, bartender, date night location, Bloody Mary, chef, Italian food, overall restaurant, lunch, appetizer, seafood, quality/value, fine dining, and casual dining. It’s won more “Best of” awards than any other Nevada County business.
Cirino plans to serve his 70-item lunch menu featuring favorite Cirino family Italian recipes and other dishes from neighboring Mediterranean countries, plus several rotating special selections from the dinner menu. A full bar and extensive wine list also await customers, who will be initially limited to 25% indoor capacity dictated by the county’s status in the red tier. Cirino said he will expand capacity as guidelines allow.
“We have maintained the safest posture with our business we possibly could to safeguard our family, employees and our valuable customers,” Cirino said. “We will continue to strictly follow the guidance of health experts to safeguard our community.”
It’s been a rocky road for local restaurants as Nevada County bounced between the numbered phases and stages the state first used to rank the severity of COVID-19 infections. The cycle saw restaurants close, open for takeout only, add outdoor dining, and reopen for indoor dining with modifications. Some businesses ignored restrictions. Local restaurants continued to adjust after the state switched to a four-tier, color-coded system of assessing COVID-19 risk. Nevada County has alternated between the more restrictive purple and red tiers, while neighboring counties and even Los Angeles County moved into the less restrictive orange tier.
In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic and Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide order instructing 40 million Californians to shelter in place and restrict all activities outside the home. On Mar. 16, 2020, Nevada County confirmed its first case of coronavirus infection.
The following day, Cirino announced he was closing his restaurant and bar indefinitely.
“I don’t know of any way you can possibly continue, responsibly, with the situation being what it is,” Cirino said in a KNCO 830AM radio interview. He said his business would not reopen until it was safe for customers and staff.
“It was an emotional, scary, confusing time,” said Cirino, who laid off 47 employees. “My first thought was to help my employees obtain unemployment benefits, because I predicted we were going from 3.5% to close to a 15% unemployment rate. I sent emails every three days advising my staff what to do. I told them to eliminate expenditures that weren’t absolutely necessary and hunker down. I said, ‘Be kind to the people around you because you’re going to be with them for a long while.’
“We then stabilized the building. That’s when plywood went up over the windows. Next, I looked at my personal finances and realized I was vulnerable. I applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.”
Today’s lower COVID-19 case rates and higher vaccination rates, Newsom’s pledge to reopen California by June 15, and the PPP requirement to reopen the restaurant and rehire employees now inspire and motivate Cirino.
“I’ve got to reopen and make sure the economy enjoys revenue from our business and taxes, employee paychecks and purchases from vendors,” Cirino said. “I also need to hire additional new staff in all positions. We need all that money to circulate in the U.S. economy.”
Among employees who will greet customers when the restaurant reopens May 13 are Operations Manager Tucker Cirino, General Manager Heather Gore Smith, and longtime bartender Carl Fleming.
All said they look forward to seeing their “family of customers” again.
“We have been the venue for countless birthday celebrations, wine tastings, engagements, impromptu parties, and anniversaries over the years,” Cirino said, “and we’ve missed our friends.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
What: Cirino’s at Main Street reopens May 13
Where: 213 W. Main St., Grass Valley
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Monday, closed Tuesday and Wednesday
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