The Freeport Esplanade area where restaurants can permit patrons to eat...

The Freeport Esplanade area where restaurants can permit patrons to eat inside beginning Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Indoor dining returned to Nassau's South Shore on Wednesday, albeit with limited capacity and other safety precautions, as Long Island hit Phase 3 in its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Freeport's Nautical Mile, many seasonal restaurants, bars and cafes opened their doors for the first time since mid-March. 

But it was anything but business as usual. Eateries will have to limit capacity to 50%; masks are required of staff and patrons, except while at their table, and social distancing guidelines remain in effect.

Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy said village police would patrol the strip to enforce social distancing guidelines and distribute masks to patrons and visitors.

"We hope to work with the residents carefully and politely," he said.

Several Nautical Mile restaurants have faced protests and calls for boycotts in recent weeks sparked by social media posts related to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

More than 32,000 people signed a petition on vowing to "cancel" Bracco’s Clam Bar and Capt. Ben’s Seafood Market, operated by Jon Bracco, and Rachel’s Waterside Grille, operated by Ivan Sayles. 

Bracco came under fire for reposting President Donald Trump's tweet in which he used the word "thugs" to describe Minneapolis protesters. He has since apologized.

Sayles was criticized for a post in which he asked "why aren't the cops in hats and bats shooting tear gas into the crowd beating the crap out of these rioters … As far as I'm concerned if you attack a police officer, a police car (with cops inside) or a police station you've attacked the sovereignty of the United States of America and deserve an appropriate reaction." 

Sayles has said he stands by his comments, which he contends were "blown out of proportion."

In Bellmore on Wednesday, Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin said officials had reduced the red tape required for restaurants to apply for outdoor dining permits. The state began allowing outdoor dining across Long Island on June 10. 

The town’s outdoor dining initiative allows restaurants to apply online for outdoor dining for free, with an expedited process that typically grants approval within days, Clavin said. Since mid-May, 198 town restaurants have applied for outdoor permits and 182 have been approved.

"This will allow them to have additional customers," Clavin said as he marked Phase 3 at Matteo's Restaurant on Bedford Avenue, which opened to limited indoor capacity. "So they are able to expand their tables, get more seats in here and fill their bills."

There are other efforts to drive business to local restaurants struggling through the pandemic.

In the Village of Westbury on Wednesday, patrons at many restaurants can receive a one-day reimbursement allowing them to collect 50% of their bill, up to $30. The program is sponsored by Split The Bill NY, a charitable initiative created by the Sidgmore Family Foundation.

Similar campaigns drove more than $66,000 in total retail spending to restaurants in the villages of Farmingdale and Valley Stream, officials said.

“Even as we enter the next phase of reopening, restaurants are still hurting from the last few months and this will be a huge help in driving business,” said Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro.

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