Local restaurants collaborate on new policies

Twenty-one local restaurants have joined the Greater Corvallis Restaurant Association, a business nonprofit started in April with the goal of improving communication between local policymakers and restaurateurs.

Steven Richmond, president of the GCRA, said “The mission is to advocate and advance restaurant interests in the local community.”

Richmond said GCRA members, primarily from Monroe and downtown, share resources. 

“For instance, when people drop resumes off when a restaurant isn’t hiring, they publish that stuff to a drive, and other restaurants that are hiring can look at that,” Richmond said.

Richmond said they also work together on marketing, events and training. One training set for January will teach bartenders and servers to de-escalate situations.

The GCRA combines Richmond’s background in politics and restaurants. He’s previously interned for state congressmen, worked as the Chair of the Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee and as a bartender at The Squirrel’s Tavern.

Richmond started the project after talking to a restaurant owner about the outdoor seating program. 

The restaurateur complained about the lack of input he’d had in the new program and about how it wasn’t fitting their needs. 

The problem relates to the outdoor seating programs developed during COVID-19.

Restaurants couldn’t seat a lot of people inside under the restrictions, so the city allowed seating in the parking spots in front of restaurants.

“We were able to have tents, tables, fencing out there, and it kind of gave a new vibrancy to downtown,” Richmond said.

Portland, Bend and Hood River all kept their outdoor seating programs after the lockdown ended, but Corvallis ended theirs more than a year ago. 

“Right now, we’re only allowed to have umbrellas, and so it’s worthless if it’s not the summer,” Richmond said.

After talking to other restaurants, Richmond got 15 to sign on to a letter to the city council asking to improve the policy, but a couple of restaurants wanted to make their group official, leading to the creation of the GCRA. 

“We proposed a policy solution and we call it the Corvallis Outdoor Dining Experience,” Richmond said. 

Their proposal, which the council is currently discussing over, would allow the construction of outdoor “parklets” with roofs and decking level with the sidewalks.

But the GCRA isn’t just about asking the council for more, Richmond said. Another goal is to work together with the city to improve various things about Corvallis.

“One thing that the (city) council has been talking about is having mandatory composting in the restaurants,” Richmond said.

According to Richmond, he’s talked to other restaurant owners about joining the GCRA, including the owner of The Downward Dog.

“We’ll be slowly and steadily trying to grow,” Richmond said, “and hopefully grow a little bit outside of Corvallis, into Philomath.”

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