Portland’s Salvage BBQ and Smokehouse is a favorite stop for those who like the taste of pulled pork and brisket slow-cooked over a wood fire. The restaurant can now also be credited with giving us a taste of what’s to come in the COVID-era food service industry.

As restaurants prepared this week for what they expected would be the resumption of in-person dining, Salvage showed how a business that’s concerned about the health of its employees and customers should respond to a public health threat.

Salvage has been partly open during the state’s public health emergency, serving takeout meals from its Congress Street location. But after an employee became infected, it shut itself down. Salvage’s quick action and transparent communication should set an example for others trying to do business under circumstances they never anticipated.

According to a post on one of the restaurant’s social media accounts, an employee was informed Saturday that they had been exposed to coronavirus. The employee went home and later began to feel ill. On Sunday, the employee tested positive for COVID-19 and is being treated at home.

The restaurant’s response did not stop there. Salvage will be closed for at least the next two weeks while the facility is thoroughly disinfected. The management says that all the other employees will be tested for coronavirus, and the restaurant won’t be serving meals again until management is sure that everyone is safe. Salvage communicated all of this with the public over social media, letting customers know what happened.

Salvage is definitely going to lose business in the short term while its doors are closed. The restaurant’s proactive stance should benefit it, however, in the long run. Barbecue connoisseurs who eat there will know that the people in the kitchen are not going to put their customers’ health at risk.

Most of Maine’s restaurants have been closed to in-person dining since late March, and those that have been able to open up have had to introduce new practices, including adding more space between tables and mandating protective gear for people preparing and serving food. Rockland and Portland are among the U.S. cities that plan to close streets to vehicle traffic this summer to create more outside space for restaurants and retail establishments struggling to reopen.

It would be a shame if even those limited opportunities to do business had to be rolled back because of new outbreaks in the community. The only alternative to a broad shutdown is a commitment by business owners to voluntarily shut down when they become aware of an active case of COVID-19.

This kind of balancing act is going to be necessary until there is a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. All of us who are anxious to see more businesses open their doors should applaud individual businesses like Salvage that catch a problem and shut themselves down.


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