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Seattle restaurateur thinks it could take weeks or months to fully reopen dining rooms

Staffing shortages and lingering pandemic concerns could slow the full reopening of many restaurants and bars, according to restauranteur Ethan Stowell in Seattle.

SEATTLE — Ethan Stowell, CEO and founder of Ethan Stowell Restaurants in Seattle, says it could take weeks or months for his restaurants to fully reopen following Wednesday’s statewide lifting of pandemic restrictions.

“Everybody thinks you turn it back on and restaurants are all back to normal, that’s not going to be the case,” Stowell said, Tuesday.

He said not everyone on his team is comfortable with a full house right now, and besides, if they were, he would not have the staff to run his properties at 100% capacity.

“We're not ready to be fully staffed, fully busy, so we're going to take it one step at a time, we're not going to hurry things, we're going to try to do things as best we can and make it as comfortable for everybody as we can,” Stowell said.

As the industry celebrates Wednesday's reopening milestone, there are concerns about how long it'll take for small businesses to bounce back.

The Washington Hospitality Association said more than 2,000 restaurants in the state have closed since the start of the pandemic.

Now, on the cusp of full reopening, the industry faces a shortage of 80,000 workers, the association said.

“Please show grace to the workers who are there, they're either learning a new job or they're working for two,” said Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association.

Stowell echoed the sentiment.

“Be patient with your restaurants, be nice to them, there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that you may not know and they’re just doing the best they can, all of them,” he said.

Stowell said to expect a gradual reopening, as businesses like his try to regain their footing.

“It's going to be a little bit bumpy for several more months, my hope is that everything is totally back to normal and everyone is feeling good by the end of the year,” he said.