In yet another devastating blow to Los Angeles restaurants this year, yesterday the L.A. County Department of Public Health announced a temporary ban on on-site dining, beginning this Wednesday at 10pm. The new restrictions will revert restaurants, bars, wineries and breweries to a takeout-and-delivery–only service model and sever any income from patio dining for at least the next three weeks without any form of government aid.
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging in Los Angeles and across the country, and officials are looking to any possible solution to help stem the tide. Last week, the county detailed a new procedure: Should L.A.’s five-day average reach 4,000 or more cases per day or if more than 1,750 are hospitalized, outdoor dining will cease completely—and over the weekend, our average reached 4,097.
Adjusting to the outdoor closure is just one of the restaurant industry’s latest pivots in a year of confusing guidelines and regulations. Last week alone, L.A. restaurants and other businesses underwent a 10pm on-site dining curfew, which they are still under, and on Saturday, much of California entered a modified and nearly statewide curfew beginning at 10pm. Indoor dining, banned since July, was meant to only last a few weeks; instead it became indefinite (at least until L.A. moves forward in the state’s reopening framework).
According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly 100,000 restaurants—roughly one in six—closed in America within the first six months of the pandemic, be it permanent or long-term. In Los Angeles, some of the most cherished and lauded restaurants will never reopen.
On Wednesday evening L.A.’s restaurants will need to pivot once again. We asked local chefs, restaurateurs and industry leaders about what lies ahead for them and the industry. Here are their responses, below; if you’re able to order takeout and delivery, consider supporting with a delicious meal—we’ve linked directly to each business’s website for that purpose.
Naomi Shim, owner of Doubting Thomas
“Vaccines are on the way. In the meantime, I hope and pray people get financial relief. Our county officials must take care of our people if we can’t. As employers, it’s our responsibility to hire and schedule to provide a livable wage for our employees. Okay, shut us down, but our people better be provided for in doing so.”
Marissa Hermer, co-owner of Olivetta and The Draycott
“Our restaurants are our babies, and our employees are our family. And so through this excruciating time, we will keep up the fight and continue to pivot. We will continue to feed and nourish our neighbors and friends, because that is what us restaurant folk do. But having to furlough our trusted and loyal staff for the third time in nine months is abhorrent, especially as we are about to enter into the holiday season.
“We are abiding by all of the rules—and without any evaluation of the curfews, we’ve been put in lockdown again. What is even more galling is that there are other counties that are allowed outdoor dining. There is no uniformity. L.A. County is forcing us to shoulder the death sentence.
“The truth of the matter is that temperatures are dropping, and if diners aren't coming to a socially-distanced outdoor dining environment, they are going to head inside with others, which could pose more of a threat than the highly regulated experience that restaurants are currently offering. We spent a fortune on government guidelines, which are now wasted. We spent a fortune to keep our employees safe and employed, as well as to implement said guidelines to protect our patrons.
“With all that said, if we’ve learned anything over the last nine months is that we are in this together—frankly, it is only each other we can turn to at this point. So it is at this time that we are learning to call on our friends to support. Please visit us at The Draycott and Olivetta for lunch and dinner through Wednesday, and please continue to order takeout from us as well as all of the independent restaurants that are the fabric of our lives.”
Ray Yaptinchay and Jay Tugas, owners of Spoon & Pork
“We’ve been expecting this since the numbers of COVID cases having been going up in L.A. Just like everything else that has happened during this pandemic, our officials haven’t given us any direction. We’ve been left to figure things out on our own. The state of independent restaurants is at a breaking point and we need help now. Without help from our government our industry as we know it is dead.”
Justin Pichetrungsi, owner of Anajak Thai Cuisine
“We’ve had to change our restaurant so many times already this year. We’re a Thai takeout spot, a wine store, an omakase private dining table and a taqueria!? After I showed my team the [Los Angeles Times] article, I said to them, ‘Thanks for coming along this crazy ride, but this rollercoaster isn’t done yet.’ They’ve adapted with me, got creative, and kept up. And most importantly, our guests have too.
“After the shutdown was announced again, we received messages from friends and guests, wishing us good luck or ‘Damn this sucks for you guys’ or ‘How can we help?’ Diners remembered how terrible this was the first time. That empathy means the world to us in the restaurant industry. I’m so grateful for it. Yeah, Thai Taco Tuesday won’t be the same without the dining in the alley component, but now we can allow takeout for TTT while California reduces its COVID cases and gets healthier. I just hope that takeout will sustain our business and my friends’ businesses for the coming shutdown. This week will be the last dine-in TTT before the shutdown. Chef Johnny Lee from Pearl River Deli will be our guest chef and do yakitori. Let’s have a fun and safe one.”
Ivan Vasquez, owner of Madre
“Restaurants like Madre have already spent thousands of dollars on umbrellas, heaters, tables, chairs, grass, lighting, face shields, outdoor barriers, tents, contractor labor costs, canopies, training, sanitizing stations, permits and licenses. We were hoping to reopen at 25 percent indoor capacity back in October and it did not happen because the cases went up after Labor Day and then even more after Halloween. As a result, owners like me began preparing mentally and financially to run our restaurants outdoors only until at least January because there were no signs of improvement in the number of cases. We had thought we might be able to break even with a lot of hard work, planning and cutting all costs. Now with takeout and delivery only, we will be in even bigger negative numbers and I think many of us won’t make it to the end of this crisis.
“We spent almost $15,000 in supplies for our three locations, hoping to survive these months and maximizing our patios with the appropriate restrictions of six feet apart, no more than six patrons per table, no more than one hour at the table to avoid people over drinking, etc. We have been talking to our neighbors so we can put tables out once they close after 5pm and we can keep a safe social distance and increase our revenue while keeping our employees on the payroll and saving our jobs. We reinvented ourselves in two months and now we are closed again. We can’t take it.
“This closure is brutal for the industry. I will have to lay off 70 percent of my staff on Friday after Thanksgiving. We can’t cut more staff because operationally it won’t make sense. You can’t run a shift with one server and one cook; we need a base team each day to operate the establishment. With no stimulus money from the government, we cannot keep the employees on payroll; landlords won’t forgive the monthly rent so we will probably have to decide very soon if we want to close our business permanently. Some of our employees do not have legal status in the USA and can’t claim unemployment. Most of my cooks and bartenders have kids and they are full-timers. I can’t even begin to imagine their struggle. Since April 2020, I have made the decision to not get paid from my company to help cover other salaries and wages for my employees, but unfortunately it was not enough. If there is not another round of stimulus checks and more businesses close, a lot of people won't get take out or delivery as before.
“Bottom line: Restaurants need cash. I do not see a plan from the federal government to enforce even the face masks, so closing L.A. County is only a Band-Aid to the problem. You can close L.A. County completely and still have no plan. The only plan is to kill more small businesses.”
Med Abrous and Marc Rose, owners of Genghis Cohen, The Spare Room and Winsome
“The latest mandate is another example of a short-sighted strategy by officials that will result in further crippling our industry. The herculean effort restaurants have made to embrace outdoor dining to stay afloat will now be wiped away with very little confidence of returning. The lack of a realistic long-term plan to contain the virus and for restaurants to stay open in whatever way is deemed safe is extraordinarily frustrating and disheartening. The damage to businesses and the staff in opening, closing and laying people off is a vicious cycle that is simply unsustainable.”
Jonathan Strader, co-owner of Little Coyote
“We are all a little numb from the year and learned how to adapt into a different model as we opened during the height of the restrictions to begin with. It hurts us to see the industry on life support with no assistance or guidance from the government. They pick on the small business owners and let the corporations take the lion's share of the bailout money. We will come back stronger. We are in a war, not a battle.”
Allen Yelent, owner of Goldburger, shared to Instagram
“We haven’t opened for patio dining because our patio has three walls and a roof so it’s indoors, not outdoors. We’ve been lucky to be a takeaway spot since the beginning, but patio dining is a lifeline for our friends and the bad decisions made by others is affecting them more than anyone else and it will have a tremendous negative ripple affect across this city. But hey, you have two more days for whatever reason so go support outdoor, safe dining while you can.”
Caroline Styne, co-owner of the Lucques Group (a.o.c., Tavern and Larder), shared to Instagram
“The County of L.A. today decided to close all outdoor dining at 10pm this Wednesday, November 25th, effectively assigning a death sentence to so many independent restaurants throughout the region. Restaurants just simply cannot survive on takeaway and delivery alone. Today’s action will result in the loss of many thousands of jobs and the destruction of so many loved businesses in Los Angeles. If restaurants are going to bear the burden of this pandemic, then we need for our government to step in and save us. We need help. I have been working tirelessly with the Independent Restaurant Coalition to help get The Restaurants Act passed. This piece of bipartisan, bicameral legislation could be the literal savior of the restaurant industry throughout this country.”
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