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Morton restaurants celebrate first day of Phase 3 with outdoor dining

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As you head back to your favorite spots to eat, you'll notice a few differences.

Tables are farther apart and servers are wearing masks.

Still, as we found out in Morton, even this small return to normal was welcomed by many businesses, old and new.

Since the pandemic began, restaurants have had to get creative. And Schooners in no exception.

Marie Arendell, owner of Schooners in Morton, fills order at makeshift drive-thru window

"When they said on March 16th only drive-thrus would be available, I kept thinking, 'What are we going to do?' So, this used to be a kitchen window, and we though, 'Well, it could be a drive-thru!'"shares owner Marie Arendell.

Now, they've transitioned from just serving customers at a makeshift window to offering outdoor seating at picnic tables in the back parking lot.

"I said if I can stay on top of everything to be able to reopen when they let us and get my employees paid and my bills paid I'll be happy," Arendell shares.

Outdoor seating in back parking lot of Schooners of Morton

On June 15th her restaurant, a local staple, will celebrate 35 years. They had hoped to be open by then. But, for now, they're counting their blessings they're able to stay afloat thanks to the community's support.

Elsewhere in Morton, Kemp 208 has stayed busy thanks to loyal customers like Craig Barley.

"It's really wonderful because we've been trying to support Kemp, we've been ordering out from them twice a week these last eight weeks. So we wanted to be here for their opening night," he explains.

It was an effort that was greatly appreciated by owner Cathy Kemp. She says in addition to offering outside seating, they're still staying busy filling carry-out orders.

And it's not just Schooners.

The Forge Steakhouse moved 102 seats outside

They weren't the only ones busy on the first day of Phase 3. The Forge Steakhouse also saw a number of customers for dinner as early as 4 P.M.. It's a good sign for the new restaurant that held its grand opening in January, only to be forced to close two months later.

"This was big for us to get back open. You'll see we've moved all the seating from inside the house and brought it outside," explains owner John Harr Thomas.

He says so far he's gotten a lot of interest from the community. Next week he plans to put up tents outside, and they will start taking reservations.

The Forge Steakhouse, Morton

However not everyone is reopening outdoor dining.

Just down the street from The Forge, Seasons Gastropub is still carryout sushi only.

They shared on Facebook that food prices, especially meat, are so high right now they don't think they can fully reopen without increasing prices for customers.

They also said some servers feel they can make more money on unemployment than they can with tips when the restaurant is still partiall closed.

Seasons Gastropub in Morton still sushi carry-out

It's a concern for many businesses as they reopen.

But, while there will certainly be some growing pains, those we spoke to who were eating out Friday night said this felt at least one step closer to 'normal.'

Caitlin Knute

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