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The more things change at Rice Restaurant & Sushi Bar, luckily the more they stay the same.
Yes, the restaurant has adapted to the novel coronavirus pandemic, says Rice general manager Michelle Hall-Kim. The restaurant has kept its cozy dining area closed, stuck to take-out service and implemented policies to follow guidelines for social distancing and keeping things “clean, clean, clean, clean,” Hall-Kim says.
But everything else has been left intact, most importantly the friendly staff and the great food that regulars have come to expect at the restaurant off Keith Bridge Road for the last 15 years.
“When we do open up, everybody can come back to the same Rice,” Hall-Kim says.
Of course, it won’t be exactly the same. No restaurant will, at least in the short-term.
Rice started making changes in early March. At first, they were small. They put up signs with instructions on proper handwashing in the bathroom. They bought hand sanitizer for guests and employees. Staff minimized contact with guests; they started giving air high-fives.
“We were just trying to make it so people weren’t so worried when they walked in the door,” Hall-Kim says.
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Eventually, health agencies developed guidelines for restaurants, and Rice took more steps to ensure its environment was clean and safe for guests and staff. They installed a plexiglass partition at the register. They staggered staff members’ shifts to minimize the number of people.
When Forsyth County ordered restaurants to close their dining areas on March 27, Rice switched to take-out and developed a system for efficient service. Customers can order and pay online or over the phone. Rice offers curbside pick-up, or guests can walk in for take-out, but only after they’ve waited in their car until their order is ready.
During food preparation, Rice staff have always worn gloves. Now they have to wear face masks, too. They also have to social distance and have their temperature checked before entering the restaurant.
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In addition, the restaurant’s high-contact surfaces were treated with an antimicrobial coating system by MicroShield 360.
“Nothing matters more than the health and safety of everybody,” Hall-Kim says.
As proof, Rice decided not to reopen, even after Gov. Brian Kemp gave restaurants the OK to do so, with several conditions. Hall-Kim says they knew the restaurant’s confined dining area made following all 39 restrictions listed in Kemp’s executive order too challenging.
So Rice has continued curbside and take-out service and leaned on its reputation in the community to avoid the severe struggles that others in the restaurant industry have experienced during the pandemic. The support has enabled Rice to keep its serving staff, albeit in new roles. They haven’t had to eliminate menu items due to food shortages.
“We’ve been very, very blessed,” Hall-Kim says.
Hall-Kim wonders about the last impact the pandemic will have on the industry. Maybe one day the restaurant will take down its plexiglass. Maybe staff won’t always wear face masks. Maybe some of the moment’s new norms are here to stay.
“Only time will tell,” Hall-Kim says.
In the meantime, the restaurant will continue to deliver the kind of food and service they’ve become known for in Forsyth County.
“We want to make sure that everybody knows we’re still keeping everything the same as possible,” Hall-Kim says.
“Everybody’s still here. We’re still going to have the same happy faces when everyone returns. We love seeing everybody, but everybody stay safe.”
Rice Restaurant & Sushi Bar
3480 Keith Bridge Rd Suite B-1, Cumming, GA 30041
(770) 887-9833, ricerestaurantandsushibar.com