Caffé Gelato’s greenhouses: outdoor dining with the comforts of inside

Ryan German, the owner of Caffé Gelato, has found a new way to expand outdoor dining while maintaining a comfortable temperature: greenhouses.

Caffé Gelato greenhouse inside
Lauren Magee/THE REVIEW
Ryan German, the owner of Caffé Gelato, has found a new way to expand outdoor dining while maintaining a comfortable temperature: greenhouses.

BY
Senior Reporter

When restaurants began reopening over the summer, capacity was severely limited due to COVID-19. Currently, restaurants are limited to 30% of the set fire capacity indoors, according to state limitations. Many restaurants expanded their outdoor seating, with many setting up on sidewalks, allowing for more customers. However, as winter approaches, outdoor seating becomes less and less comfortable.

Ryan German, the owner of Caffé Gelato, has found a new way to expand outdoor dining while maintaining a comfortable temperature: greenhouses.

German said he first got the idea from seeing articles with pictures of people dining in private greenhouses in Amsterdam. He then saw another restaurant in Los Angeles, Lady Byrd Café, use the same kind of greenhouses for dining.

“I called [Lady Byrd Café] and asked them if they could tell me how they did the greenhouses, and they mentioned a couple companies,” German said. “So, I started researching, and I found a Texas greenhouse company … They gear themselves towards small family estates and folks that have big fancy houses and yards and want their own private greenhouse to grow vegetables or flowers in their backyard. He was surprised to hear that we wanted to do it for dining.”

German was able to get a $5,000 grant from the office of Matt Meyer, the county executive, to put toward the funding for the greenhouses.

“[Matt Meyer’s office] decided that folks dining outside is safer than inside, and if they could extend the outdoor dining season, they would,” German said. “So, they [offered] up to $5,000 for New Castle County restaurants, and we got $5,000 to put toward the greenhouses.”

German also said that eventually, the greenhouses had to be approved by the state’s health department. He said the state wanted to make sure that the number of cases would not increase if someone who had COVID-19 dined in the greenhouse.

The state department then asked him to create airflow through the greenhouses. German said that there’s now heat and fresh air going into the greenhouse and exhaust air flowing out.

“So, the health department actually requiring us to change the air and make sure that it was extra safe was a blessing in disguise, because now we probably have the first fully heated with exhaust air [greenhouse] in the nation, which means that the greenhouses are exchanging air 10 times an hour,” German said. “So, basically, this is safer than sitting at your kitchen table.”

German said that customers seem to like the greenhouses so far and that many prefer to sit in them.

“We had UD student-age folks dining in the greenhouse on Saturday, and they seem to like it,” German said. “They chose it rather than sitting at a table inside.”

German said the greenhouses are ideal for winter because the sun faces the restaurant in the evenings, making the greenhouses very warm and comfortable compared to the outdoor patio with heat towers.

“Bundling up and being under a tower heater, I mean, it does work, but these greenhouses, you could be in a t-shirt,” German said. “It’s super comfortable. So, you could dress up, go on a nice dinner and be in a greenhouse. It’s really a way to have outdoor private dining with the comforts of inside.”

German said that after the greenhouses are no longer needed, he would like to sell them to someone who wants a greenhouse in their backyard, possibly for growing plants. However, he said that it’s possible that the norms of dining will permanently change for the restaurant industry, and he may end up keeping them.

“Maybe there’s going to be some post-pandemic changes to what people expect when dining out,” German said. “So, maybe if you’re going out on a date on Valentine’s Day, you no longer would think of sitting 12 inches away from another table. Maybe that’s a change that will always be there, and maybe people will want to sit in a private greenhouse.”

In addition to the greenhouses, German has added several other safety precautions, including glass dividers between all booths inside, glass dividers separating spaces at the bar, KN-95 masks for all the staff and a hand-scanner for staff after they wash their hands.

“We added a hand-scanner way back in March,” German said. “So, when our staff washes their hands, changes gloves, washes their hands again; each time they scan their hands, and the hand scanner says ‘no pathogens detected’ or ‘wash again.’”

German said that all of these changes contribute to the safety of the restaurant as a whole, and none of them would be as effective alone.

“It all flows together,” German said. “It’s the greenhouses, plus the dividers in the booths inside, plus the hepa filter, plus the hand sanitation. I think it all comes together. I don’t think the greenhouses would stand alone if we weren’t doing anything else.”

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