Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 began to spread rapidly across the U.S., the majority of local restaurants were forced to close or alter their operations. Some are now returning to regular dine-in services at their own discretion, with the help of guidelines from the state of Kansas and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Many restaurants, such as Prime on the Nine located at 1800 Matt Down Lane, reopened dine-in services on May 4 after about two months closed and have already begun to adapt to operating in a COVID-19 world.


For Prime on the Nine, this includes altering menus to offer limited options, limiting occupancy to 25% capacity and to groups of no more than 10 for social distancing reasons, not seating people at booths for sanitation reasons, deciding not to open its bar for dining because of CDC restrictions, and choosing which employees to phase back in.


"It’s about learning how to create a new norm, since we don’t know what the new normal is going to be," said Ryan Emery, executive chef at Prime on the Nine. "We have a unique opportunity to start from scratch, we can start to rebuild our business and revive it from this thing that’s left us dormant for the past few months."


Regarding the restaurant’s future, Emery said, the stagnant time has allowed them to consider remodeling ideas as they reopen and highlights their eagerness to take customer feedback into consideration as they resume dine-in operations.


Prime on the Nine plans to continue its Project Dinner initiative and projects it will be able to for months to come, unlike Central Station Bar and Grill, which will discontinue its free meal service and resume business as normal as it can.


Prime on the Nine can be reached at 620-227-2736.


Central Station, located at 207 E. Wyatt Earp Blvd., and I Don’t Care Family Restaurant and Sports Bar, located on 1510 W. Spruce St., have used the past two months to do more extensive remodeling. In contrast to Prime on the Nine, Central Station planned to delay dine-in services to May 18 as opposed to May 4.


"I’m mostly going with the public perception right now," said Albert Vazquez, owner of Central Station. "We just took it easy for one more week, playing it by ear and sticking by the guidelines from the state, just to keep everyone safe."


Vazquez said he and his employees redid the entire west side and floors, added a new sign, repainted the front of the building, and added dividers around the countertops inside.


As the occupancy procedures change over the coming weeks, Vazquez said, his staff will be able to make use of all three dining sections to maximize the change in capacity and still allow for social distancing.


Central Station can be reached at 620-225-1176.


I Don’t Care, meanwhile, had completely suspended operations to allow time for its own remodeling. It expected to resume total operations May 19.


Proprietor Brenda Lee and her husband, owner Leon Lee, said they have followed CDC and state recommendations and deep-cleaned the establishment, to the point of temporarily removing all appliances to clean them. They redid the floors, remodeled the restrooms and painted all the walls.


Additional cosmetic changes include walls dedicated to the Dodge City High School Red Demons, Kansas City Chiefs, and memorabilia for other local and statewide sports teams.


While not in operation, I Don’t Care was able to pay employees by applying for and receiving a Paycheck Protection Program loan.


I Don’t Care can be reached at 620-371-6061.


Casa Alvarez, 1701 W. Wyatt Earp Blvd., while doing a little remodeling of its own, was uncertain when it would resume dine-in operations but continued to offer carryout and curbside pickup on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, according to manager Edgar Alvarez.


"It just depends on whatever updates there is between here and now, determines what our decision is," said Alvarez. "We had plans to reopen earlier, but we just felt it was safer not to do it."


Casa Alvarez can be reached at 620-225-7164.


Thai Garden, 1506 W. Wyatt Earp Blvd., opened during the COVID-19 crisis in Ford County. Despite their initial worries that the restaurant would not have customers because of COVID-19, it has been successful thus far, said owners Sulida and Sunny Phaengsi.


"We had no problem opening up," said Sunny Phaengsi. "We had plenty of people ordering food so fast, to keep us busy. Everybody wants to eat."


Sulida Phaengsi said the restaurant, which is currently open for carryout or curbside pickup, plans to implement dine-in services in June and will abide by social distancing procedures.


Thai Garden can be reached at 620-227-2400.