Spokane restaurants finally approved for outdoor seating; why the City says it took so long

SPOKANE, Wash. — Added COVID-19 restrictions in Washington have been tough on local businesses, already struggling to make ends meet under limited capacity. 

That’s why Spokane’s City Council recently voted to fast track a permit process that would allow businesses to expand their outdoor seating. 

READ: Spokane fast tracks permit process for restaurants, retailers looking to expand under new guidelines

Wanderlust Delicato is one business that took advantage of that outdoor permit. The restaurant only has two tables outside, but the owner says anything helps. 

It’s a struggle,” said Amber Park, the restaurant’s owner. “I wake up every day waiting for another blow, another some – regulation to deal with.” 

Restaurants serving at half capacity means less money coming in. 

Even two tables can make a difference, but Park is still waiting for the payoff. 

“It’s helpful, but we’re halfway through the summer and took longer than I thought,” said Park. 

Wanderlust Delicato does have an upstairs outdoor patio, however that’s shared with the rest of the building. So, if anyone wants to use it for private parties, it has to be reserved in advanced. It’s not another option for customers to just walk in and dine in at.

It took two months to get the sidewalk cafe permit. Park says she applied with the City for it at the end of May. 

Just across the street, Gander and Ryegrass customers have been enjoying the outdoor tables for almost two months. They have three tables out front. Owner Peter Froese says he wants to add more tables outside, but with smaller staff on hand, it might have to wait.

Froese got an early start, even though the restaurant’s permit was only approved this week. 

“If we’re going to take a good strike at being a successful business, we need to put tables on the outside of the building and we went for it,” Froese said.

So, why the long wait for a permit? 

The City of Spokane says, in part, getting either a streatery, parklet, or sidewalk cafe is more than just filling an open space; there are various safety components and infrastructure needs that have to be met. For example, places are inspected in case having tables would block a fire escape, a stairwell or more. Some places have to work around public and private utilities.

“The process has been fast tracked by eliminating the public hearing requirement and providing flexibility on the non-life safety issues. Keep in mind, these are not simple permits,” the city said in a statement.

A two-week turnaround would have been a best-case scenario.

“It has been our experience that everyone is working hard to manage the ongoing and frequent changes regarding physical distancing while keeping public safety the priority. We are all working together to support our businesses,” the statement read.

Regardless, these businesses are happy to have the permits and extra seating, making it just a little easier on them during these tough times.

“We do this a lot of out passion and love for what we do, rather than just pulling a paycheck. It’s definitely fun to have people in the restaurant,” Froese said, adding that the community has been great to them.

“It’s something. Any extra space is fantastic, and any outdoor space right now is extremely important, so I think it’ll be great,” Park said.