With the masks mandate lifted, Boston eating places look forward

With the masks mandate lifted, Boston eating places look forward

Julie King has just reopened her Villa Mexico Cafe restaurant in the Financial District after being closed for more than five months. It closed in late September due to a family emergency and slow business as remote work impacted foot traffic.

On King’s first day back, a number of longtime customers stopped by to pay her a visit.

“They came here to say hello and ask about my mom and see how everything was,” she said.

Julie King at her Villa Mexico Cafe restaurant. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

As a restaurant owner, King faces some challenges as the city enters a new phase of the pandemic. Grocery prices have gone up along with gas prices, and she works with fewer staff. She hopes foot traffic will return as the city’s offices welcome back employees who have been working remotely for the past two years.

As King and other Boston restaurant owners solve these problems, they now have one less thing to worry about: Boston’s indoor mask requirement.

In view of the low level of COVID-19 cases, the city of Boston lifted mask requirements in restaurants, bars, museums, gyms and entertainment venues on March 5.

But if you’re planning on going to Villa Mexico soon, it’s a good idea to bring a mask.

“I’ll give it until May to see if [cases are] down, down, down,” King said.

King is sticking to her pandemic routine, including requiring her workers to wear masks. And if customers come without a mask, she plans to offer them one. King, 67, said she didn’t want to take any chances of getting sick. Plus, she said, a mask highlights one of her best qualities.

“I’m very happy with the mask,” King said. “Because that’s the only thing they can do [see are] my pretty eyes That’s it.”

Some restaurant workers are relieved the mask requirement is over.

Jason Gentles, chef at Jamaica Mi Hungry, said sometimes staff have to remind unruly customers to wear a mask. He’s glad it’s over.

“[It’s] a big, big relief,” Gentles said.

Jamaica Mi Hungry Chef Jason Gentles slices plantains at the restaurant's Allston location.  (Darryl C Murphy/WBUR)Jamaica Mi Hungry Chef Jason Gentles slices plantains at the restaurant’s Allston location. (Darryl C Murphy/WBUR)

While many local eateries are still struggling to regain a foothold, Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen in the South End appears to be on the rise.

Owner Nia Grace said business is trending towards pre-pandemic levels, with enough staff to bring her Sunday evening hours back.

She said staff and guests are welcome with or without a mask. But, she said, just because the mandate ended doesn’t mean the other security protocols went with it.

“This does not mean that we are discontinuing all other precautionary measures that we have taken to protect our customers over the past two years and even before that,” Grace said. “Proper food handling and disinfection – all those service steps that we’ve mastered are still there, with or without this mask.”

Masks are still required in Boston on public transportation, as well as in nursing facilities, healthcare facilities and public schools. It has not yet been announced when this will change.