Coffee shops and cafes, largely shut down for walk-in business since mid-March, are beginning to reopen as restrictions on takeout food ease.

La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee giant, is taking pages out of the airport and pharmacy handbooks in retrofitting 30 of its cafes in six cities for safety. The first location to reopen this week is at 130 S. 19th St., just north of Rittenhouse Square, where the company began 26 years ago. Others will follow in coming weeks, including the flagship store in Fishtown. The four airport locations will have to wait.

Inside seating is still prohibited by law.

Customers line up outside, where a greeter takes orders at the door “to keep fingers off of touchscreens,” said Todd Carmichael, who founded La Colombe with J.P. Iberti.

Once inside, patrons, who must wear masks, move through a line. Rather than use the ribbon tape that creates a maze at an airport check-in, La Colombe has installed acrylic panels to frame the lines.

Customers must wait six feet apart, and may add food from the grab-and-go case while waiting in line.

By the time patrons get to the bar, he said, the order is ready. Protecting his staff members behind a glassed-in counter is easy, he said. There, “we’re stealing a page out of what pharmacies do," he said.

Carmichael said a 10% gratuity, to be passed directly to staff, is automatically added to checks.

Carmichael declined to disclose the budget for the retrofitting. “When building for safety, my thinking is, do it right, no matter the price,” he said. “I gave the team a blank check, my ideas, and said, ‘Go.’ When we get the 30th cafe done and open, we’ll do the accounting then."

In a demonstration, a customer completes a purchase at the La Colombe near Rittenhouse Square through a slot in an acrylic glass shield.
COURTESY LA COLOMBE
In a demonstration, a customer completes a purchase at the La Colombe near Rittenhouse Square through a slot in an acrylic glass shield.