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Here’s What Restaurants Can, and Can’t Do, to Sell Groceries in Los Angeles

These new policies makes it easier for customers to buy pantry items while keeping restaurants in business

Pantry at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
Courtesy of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
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.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health made it that much easier for restaurants to to sell grocery items yesterday. In recent weeks, the health department evolved from shutting a restaurant market down for the same practice, to new guidelines that allow restaurants to sell much needed at-home items like toilet paper to customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s been a whirlwind week for this crucial government arm for restaurants. On Monday, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer publicly stated that restaurants selling grocery items required a permit, according to the Los Angeles Times. That same day, the health department temporarily shut down Playa del Rey’s Bacari PDR, citing the restaurant for selling bulk non-perishable grocery items without a proper grocer’s permit.

When asked about this issue, City of LA mayor Eric Garcetti did not side with the health department, stating that rules should be relaxed during these challenging times, but deferred to the county health department for a final decision. That’s a contrast to Garcetti’s action with crowded local farmers markets. The mayor temporarily suspended the outdoor markets, requiring each to submit a review of physical distancing plans the City before reopening.

And two days ago, LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn directed the health department to issue safety guidelines for restaurants selling unprepared food. Supervisor Hahn introduced and passed the measure, and Supervisors should announce new guidelines by the end of this week.

After all this back and forth, LA restaurants are now legally allowed to reinvent themselves into a food delivery and takeout/grocer, but with new guidelines designed to keep employees and customers safe. This is across Los Angeles County, though some cities within the county, such as Pasadena, have their own health departments which will set its own guidelines.

Eater obtained a copy of LA County’s guidelines from chief environmental health specialist Richard Lavin. They say that if a restaurant wants to permanently change operations to a retail food market, then an application and plans will need to be submitted electronically to the Plan Check Program. If a restaurant wants to “temporarily” change its method of operation to get through the COVID-19 crisis, then the facility is allowed to do the following:

  • All food items to be sold must be listed on a menu, menu board or other type of display;
  • The food items must be provided to the customer over-the-counter, by drive-thru, or delivery. No customer self-service or self-selection of items is allowed (In other words, nothing can be on display for customer selection).
  • If the facility intends to sell “non-food” items (i.e., toilet paper, paper towels, etc.), then those items must also be listed on the menu, menu board, or other type of display, and provided over-the-counter. No customer self-selection or self-service.
  • They may NOT open a packaged, USDA stamped meat product and repackage for sale. If the facility received a large box of individually packaged, stamped USDA meat, they may sell the individual packages as long as each package is stamped and has proper labeling requirements. Also must be listed on menu, menu board, etc.
  • No change-of-operation paperwork (i.e., submittal of plans, new application, change of program element) is necessary if they are willing to abide by the above restrictions.

This story will be updated as soon as new guidelines are announced or changed.