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‘I’m Pleading With the Government:’ LA Restaurants Respond to New Lockdowns

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Indoor dining remains prohibited until the end of the month, while restaurants struggle during an already incredibly trying year

California Imposes New Lockdown Orders As COVID-19 Cases Surge Across The Nation Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

California has once again implemented a sweeping stay-at-home order for much of the state to help curb the soaring COVID-19 infection rate. The lockdown means no on-site outdoor dining in over a dozen area counties, at least through December 28.

On-site dining has been a major factor in keeping restaurants, bars, cafes, and wineries afloat throughout this devastating pandemic, and in keeping thousands of workers employed during one of the greatest economic crises the country has ever faced. For now, that option is gone. And with no formal federal financial package confirmed yet for the more than 31,000 restaurants and small food businesses in LA County alone, the future is as bleak as it has been at any point during the pandemic. Some eateries (and even local government officials) have even taken to openly defying the order, which usually results in a visit from the health department to revoke health permits or enact fines.

Eater reached out to restaurant workers, chefs, and owners to comment on the current lockdown. Those comments have been edited for clarity. Want to speak with us yourself? You can always use the tipline.

Kevin Shea, owner Hollywood Burger

I spent a couple of thousand dollars making sure my patio was in compliance with Plexiglass dividers, which I was very happy to do. We spent all that money and now they’re closing it down. It’s a frustration, built up. We come into compliance with what they say, and they shut [us] down anyway.

My main priority is keeping my 22 team members employed. It’s devastating not knowing where my next payroll is coming from. The shutdown of outdoor dining cut down another 25 percent of my revenue on top of what’s already been crippling for us. Our main focus right now is [that employees] are not out on the street with no paycheck and no food for their families. I’m pleading with government officials to listen and put the focus on these people.

Ernest McIntyre, owner French Quarter Creole Bar & Grill in Bellflower

The second [shutdown] is probably three times as hard as the first one. We’re still trying to bounce back from the first. It costs about $12,000 a month to operate my business. But if I’m closed, those bills still have to be paid, and they don’t stop coming.

We closed for five months. When they started allowing us to do business outside, that helped us a lot. We were doing okay. The PPP loans they gave us helped some of the employees, but it still was not enough to sustain the business. We’ve taken out another loan; it’s eating up everything. I had a savings account with $113,000, and I’ve used up all that money just to keep up the business. I don’t have that cushion for the second wave.

I’ve been open for six years. We sell Louisiana food and the theme is Mardis Gras. People don’t understand we’re not Buffalo Wild Wings; we don’t have that kind of traffic on a normal basis. I don’t get why you can go to Walmart and it’s jam-packed, but you can’t go to a restaurant with 40 to 50 people eating outside.

Lucy Haro, owner Qusqo Bistro in Sawtelle

Restaurants are the easy scapegoat. There’s been a lack of leadership, from city officials to our governor dining out. There is so much doubt right now.

In the city of LA, we’ve been so good with wearing masks. You can go across county lines and it looks like COVID never existed. Every day I get calls from tourists who ask if they can sit inside to eat. They come without masks, and I have to ask them to put on a mask or leave. I have to protect my staff and customers.

Over the last two weeks, it’s been dim. Takeout has dropped. I’m taking it day by day. We’ll try staying open for as long as we can.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele’s patio in Hollywood.
Empty patio space at L’Antica, taken last year
Wonho Frank Lee

Jonathan De Veaux, Consultant, Wood Urban Kitchen in Inglewood

Maybe I’m naive, but after the first lockdown, seeing what it did economically to restaurants and businesses, I thought they would have a little bit of prudence when it came to the second [shutdown]. I thought, ‘There’s no way they’ll lock everyone down without any kind of stimulus or aid.’ When it came down, I was shocked. Right before Thanksgiving? Right before the busiest time for restaurants?

The Board of Supervisors was a 3 to 2 vote. One person affected 30,000 restaurants. One person, one vote affected all those jobs, all these people, all these restaurants that closed. I know it’ll be more than three weeks. They always start off with two or three weeks, and they always extend them. There’s no notice, no heads up, and I think this is a little bit cruel.

This shutdown affects so many people. It’s not just the restaurant workers, it’s the purveyors, plumbers, maintenance people, cleaners, the people you get your wine from. There’s a supply chain for 30,000 restaurants.

Naomi Shim, owner Doubting Thomas in Historic Filipinotown

It’s easy to feel we’re at the mercy of everyone and everything right now: COVID-19, politicians, our regulars, food writers. I’m the creative type, so with the first shutdown, I thought it was time to adapt and get creative — this might actually be fun! It was also a necessary wake-up call to take inventory of our part in a hyper-connected planet, look beyond our own local ecosystem, recognize that we depend on fewer, more integrated networks.

Too many of us, politicians especially, are in denial of our interconnectedness. After the fourth or fifth county order regarding closures, us changing business hours, cutting shifts ... my staff and I are over it.

Vaccines are on the way. I hope and pray people get financial relief. Our county leaders 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. Shut us down, but our people better be provided for in doing so.

Sol Bashirian chef/co-owner Sunday Gravy

It’s a tough blow, and our hearts go out to fellow restaurateurs that have to make the difficult decisions of laying off staff or closing down. We hope that our elected officials see to it that these sacrifices are not made in vain, and at the very least please be more clear and direct in their messaging. It’s hard enough for some of these people to lose everything they have worked for, but then seeing those we entrust to make the best decisions for our communities go against their own word does nothing more than add insult to injury.

Marcus Christiana Beniger, owner Little Jewel of New Orleans

To encourage already-struggling businesses to take out loans, and quickly erect ‘supposedly safe’ outdoor seating areas that the city, Board of Supervisors, and Health [department] is demanding of you, only to quickly renege on the entire deal? Well, that’s just clueless incompetence in governance. Something tells me 2021 is going to be the year of the lawsuit.

Tal Ronnen, chef/owner Crossroads Kitchen in West Hollywood

In June, when we were allowed to reopen, we brought back the majority of staff. Three weeks later, we were forced to close indoors after spending thousands sanitizing the HVAC system, and [for] dividers throughout the restaurant. We adapted to outdoor dining, kept the staff that came back in June, and spent another $20,000 to complete an outdoor patio a week before shutdown. We thought we would have the holidays to pay it back, but now we are left doing with huge bills and just to-go orders.

It’s really heartbreaking, and from what I’ve seen on the County’s own website, most of the outbreaks are happening in other industries like construction, auto dealerships, grocery stores. They all have three times the outbreaks that independent restaurants do.

Francesco Zimone, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Hollywood

A second lockdown has the power of an aftershock. It’s stronger than the first one. When you let someone go, even if they’re hourly, you have to pay for vacation or sick days. Operating expenses include workers’ compensation and it’s based on the volume of business you used to do. All of these things affect a lot of other situations, like insurance or payroll.

I feel that we should pay an incredible amount of respect to anyone who lost someone, because this thing is real. But it doesn’t make sense that the only ones who pay are restaurants. The supermarkets, Amazon, are making more money than before. The stimulus should impact small mom-and-pops over the big guys. There’s no way, moving forward, that we can sustain something like this. If this is not going to end before Christmas, I doubt any more are going to open in the new year.

Kathryn Coker, Esters Wine Shop & Bar Co-Owner and Rustic Canyon Family Wine Director in Santa Monica

Honestly, this lockdown is totally different than in the spring. That was so hard because we were trying to get our footing and had no idea how long this would last. But this time, we can slip back into a model that we’ve worked before, and there is hope on the horizon with the vaccine. None of this means that these restrictions aren’t incredibly hard on our business and the lives of our employees. But when I think about how many people are getting sick right now, I just try to focus on the positive.