SALEM — The Gulu-Gulu Cafe is dog-friendly.
The staff wears T-shirts with pictures of owner Steve Feldmann’s pets: Jack, the Boston terrier, and Charlie, the pug. The dogs’ faces are on mugs and glasses. There are even dog paintings on the walls.
Dogs aren’t allowed inside the restaurant, but they have always been welcome on the outdoor patio.
“We made it a thing at Gulu-Gulu (to) always bring out water (for the dog) before we’d bring out the menus,” Feldmann said.
That practice stopped earlier this month when Feldmann got word that dogs and other pets aren’t permitted in the outdoor dining areas of restaurants.
“We had a couple of complaints,” Health Agent Larry Ramdin said.
Pets in outdoor dining areas are prohibited under the food establishment regulations of the state sanitary code, according to Ramdin. Before taking action, however, the health agent contacted the Department of Public Health just to make sure.
“They confirmed that dogs are not allowed ... because the outdoor dining area is considered part of the restaurant,” he said.
The health agent contacted Gulu-Gulu and The Lobster Shanty, the two restaurants named in the complaints. In the next few weeks, he expects to send out notices to all city restaurants informing them of the regulation, which the state adopted in 1999. The city has about 1,000 seats outside restaurants.
At the same time, Ramdin said he plans to check into reports that dogs are allowed in some cities and towns, either through variances or special regulations. He said he wants to pursue all options for legal ways to allow pets.
“If I can permit it to happen under the state sanitary code, then I will,” he said.
The ban, of course, does not apply to service dogs, which are allowed in restaurants or on outdoor patios with their owners.
The anti-canine enforcement for everyone else, however, has not gone over well.
“Everybody is like crazy,” said Diane Wolf, co-owner of The Lobster Shanty.
Like Gulu-Gulu, the Shanty has a reputation as a place to go with a pet. It even has a dog menu. A few years ago, a city brochure promoted the restaurant as dog-friendly, according to Wolf.
“On any given Saturday or Sunday, I would say about 50 percent of our (outdoor) tables have dogs underneath them,” she said.
Although the Salem Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken an official position or even entered the debate, Executive Director Rinus Oosthoek said he hopes a compromise can be reached.
Oosthoek may have stumbled across a solution while visiting Martha’s Vineyard a few years ago. Sitting at a table in the outside dining area of a restaurant, Oosthoek said his breakfast group was approached by actor Stephen Baldwin with a proposition.
“He came with a dog and a friend and said, ‘This might sound like a strange question, but would you mind moving a table?’”
The restaurant allowed customers with dogs to sit on the perimeter of the outdoor dining area, but not in the middle near other customers and in the way of waiters carrying food. Oosthoek said they gladly got up and switched tables.
The owners of both the Shanty and Gulu-Gulu said they don’t blame Ramdin for enforcing the rules. But they do hope a solution can be found that will allow them to remain dog-friendly.
“We’ve definitely lost customers,” Wolf said. “... (But) it has increased our takeout a little bit.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.