NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) ─ It has officially been one year since Rhode Island restaurants were forced to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time, former Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered all restaurants and bars to close their dining rooms and shift to take-out only.

But a lot has changed since then, and restaurant owners are once again allowed to welcome guests back into their dining rooms.

Justin Ferland, the director of operations at The Reef in Newport, tells 12 News the past year has been anything but easy.

“It was a very, very difficult journey,” Ferland said. “It’s the not knowing, I think, for all of us that was the most difficult. You can’t plan what you don’t now is going to happen in the next two to three weeks.”

It’s also the second year in a row the Newport St. Patrick’s Day Parade won’t go on as planned, but Ferland said despite that, business has been slowly picking back up.

“We didn’t have the parade in Newport, but the foot traffic started to come back which was huge,” Ferland said. “It was a big morale booster for our staff, for myself … and the locals that love to come here in the summer.”

“I would say this was a big turning point for us,” he continued. “There is light at the end of the tunnel, the spring and summer are looking great for everybody, so we are very excited.”

Rich Willis, owner of Caleb and Broad in Newport, shared a similar sentiment. He’s hopeful that as the weather gets warmer and more people get vaccinated, business will improve.

“It’s been a challenge, but the goal has always been to be here, and we are still here,” Willis said.

“We’ve been open for quite a while now, about a month ago, the mentality of people changed, and things are just getting busier,” he continued. “It’s almost been a snowball effect. This past weekend was one of the busiest weekends we’ve had in the last year. It’s definitely getting better.”

On Friday, restaurants in Rhode Island will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity for indoor dining, which is the highest it’s been since they were forced to close.