Dover's decision to keep 10 p.m. restaurant curfew gets mixed reactions
DOVER — Alfredo Jimenez longs for warmer weather so he can move his tables and chairs outside where he can better serve his patrons.
The winter months and the brutal cold and snow have been brutal for business, Jimenez said. He co-owns the popular Brenda Lee Restaurant, which serves authentic Mexican tacos. It is a popular eatery, especially for people looking for some food after a night out.
Gov. Phil Murphy slightly relaxed indoor restrictions last week by increasing capacity limits from 25% to 35% and lifted the 10 p.m. state-imposed curfew on restaurants and bars. He left it to local officials to make similar decisions for their municipalities.
Dover opted to keep the 10 p.m. curfew, and while some business owners said they don't understand the town's decision, others said it's what the town needs to battle COVID-19.
For now, Brenda Lee and other town eateries must continue to rely on late-night takeout to stay afloat.
"I didn't believe in apps but I've had to use Uber Eats and DoorDash to keep business open," said Jimenez in Spanish. "Business isn't like it was before, but thank God we've been able to stay open and people keep coming to us."
"On Saturday, I went to Passaic. They’re working normal hours," Jimenez added. "This is just something I don’t understand why the town is doing."
The town will enforce the 10 p.m. curfew, but will comply with the state's slightly relaxed indoor restrictions increasing indoor dining capacity limits.
Francisco, a waiter at Peruvian restaurant Las Tres Marias who asked that his last name not be published, said the town's decision is fair. At night business is usually dead, Francisco said.
"Around 9 or 10 p.m., people aren't around anymore," said Francisco in Spanish. "Either way, we close at 9 p.m either way for that reason. This really doesn't affect us."
Dover Police Chief Johnathan Delaney said no restaurants or bars were issued summonses over the weekend for staying open after curfew, despite it being Super Bowl Sunday. He said restaurants and bars were notified of the town's decision, but the owners said they found out on social media.
"We didn't receive an official communication about this. We found out about this on the Town of Dover's Facebook page," said German Arango, manager at Sabor Latino. "No one told us anything about this. The town didn't even call us."
Arango said Sabor Latino owner Wilson Vasquez called town hall last Thursday, before the town's announcement, to clarify a rumor he heard that Dover would not follow the state's new regulations. Vasquez was told the mayor's office would call restaurants the next day but no one called. Jimenez said the town never reached out to him.
"We respect the town's order but town hall never issued a formal communication to restaurants," Arango added. "Then at 6 p.m on Friday, Dover posted the news on their Facebook page and one of our customers called us asking if we had seen it. We're busy running a business, we're not on social media all the time."
Arango said the weather might have prevented businesses from violating town orders. He said the restaurant he manages didn't have the normal amount of patrons it usually attracts on game days.
"It was different since there was snow. It was a quiet day, we didn't have the usual clientele," Arango said. "Restaurants have been really affected but I think we're really fortunate because the Dover community really supports us."
Austin Nieves dines regularly at restaurants in town, and the number of COVID-19 cases are a cause for concern, and although the state is lifting regulations, Dover may need something different, Nieves said.
"Even though the entire state's numbers are good enough to lift the curfew, we must hyper-focus into pockets of the state, like Dover, who happen to not be in a place to lift curfews," Nieves said. "Typically, what's good for the whole state is generally good for a singular municipality, but not this time, not in Dover regarding COVID."
In October, Dover surpassed Parsippany, Morris County's most populous town, in the number of COVID-19 cases reported in a single day.
Monday's Morris County COVID-19 totals show Dover has reported 2,221 cases since March 2020. The town trails behind Parsippany, which reported 2,973 total cases, the most in Morris County.
Similarly, Dover Public Schools decided to keep students virtual until the end of March. Between Jan. 1 and Jan.15 Dover had more than 100 new cases of the virus.
"Unfortunately, our community continues to be significantly impacted by COVID-19, with high amounts of new cases that continue to be reported," said Superintendent James McLaughlin in a letter to parents in January. "Projections indicate that this number will most likely continue to escalate for the short term future."
Blacks and Latinos in densely populated cities where the coronavirus spread quickly, and immigrants living paycheck to paycheck have been among the most affected during the pandemic.
Dover is home to Morris County’s largest Latino and Hispanic population, with 69% of its roughly 18,000 residents.
Jessie Gomez is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com and NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.