A worker for the Los Angeles County Department of Health has temporarily shut down Bacari PDR in Playa del Rey, citing the restaurant for selling bulk non-perishable grocery items without a proper grocer’s permit. The five-and-a-half year old business had, like many other restaurants and food-serving bars during the novel coronavirus pandemic, pivoted to serving takeaway food over the past few weeks after being mandated to do so by California Governor Gavin Newsom, and had been supplementing their cooked kitchen items with a variety of staple at-home items like toilet paper and dry pantry goods.
Bacari co-founder Robert Kronfli tells Eater that the restaurant was summarily shuttered by the health department worker last week, after the person arrived to follow up on an anonymous tip from someone in the neighborhood about the sale of grocery items at the restaurant. The crackdown is even more eyebrow-raising, considering the absolute cratering of the city’s restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, when dining inside restaurants is outlawed and a Safer at Home mandate has people only leaving their homes for essential tasks. Dozens of other restaurants have similarly pivoted to offering pantry items and perishables like bread, eggs, butter, and produce, in part to sell off their own supplies but also to feed immediate neighbors as grocery stores continue to crowd with people and hoarding remains common.
Kronfli says that, despite trying to reason with the worker, Bacari PDR was shut down immediately. Ownership began reaching out to others to try to find an alternative, including the National Restaurant Association, who linked back up with the LA County Department of Health for further guidance that could allow Bacari PDR to reopen. Kronfli doesn’t blame the specific worker or the anonymous tipster, but does believe there needs to be clarification from the top, and an understanding restaurants like his are trying to feed people safely while also staying in business.
The issue, it seems, has less to do with the sale of a few rolls of toilet paper and more to do with crowding inside the restaurant’s converted dining area, so Kronfli says ownership is considering a new approved process that could have diners pass through the grocery area, one at a time, marking down the items they’d want, before going back outside and waiting for staffers to bag things up.
Whatever the result, Bacari’s situation could have big implications for restaurants across Los Angeles County, many of which continue to sell pantry staples and grocery items as well. With luck, Kronfli says, a ruling from the department of health could come early this week.