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LA Restaurant Operators Declare Support for Protesters While Grappling With Unrest

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Just after dining rooms were allowed to reopen, restaurants must deal with countywide curfews

Police stand watch over Fairfax District in front of forthcoming restaurant Dave’s Hot Chicken
Police stand watch over Fairfax District in front of forthcoming restaurant Dave’s Hot Chicken
Anthony Chirco

Los Angeles is on day four of protests and unrest following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who was killed by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, last week. Floyd’s murder, along with the recent deaths of Armaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, have led to nationwide protests against police violence and brutality. On Saturday, protests in the Fairfax District were followed by some people looting and vandalizing Fairfax Avenue, Beverly Hills, and Melrose Avenue. On Sunday, protests in Santa Monica and Long Beach preceded looting and vandalism in those areas as well.

Today, businesses grapple with the third consecutive countywide curfews set at 6 p.m. and even earlier in some municipalities. Here now, Eater has compiled reactions from restaurant operators and chefs regarding the protests, unrest, and curfews that have already impacted businesses who were just recently allowed to open dining rooms on May 29.

Jimmy Han, owner of Beer Belly Long Beach:

Fortunately, everything is okay. We were definitely close, but I think the rioters and looters are getting retail shops like clothing and shoes. My bar wasn’t damaged.

There’s a massive cleanup effort. So many people walking around with brooms and dustpans; it was a beautiful thing to see. I think people understand that the community is sticking together, even protecting. I was offered protection services last night, and I just told them I don’t think that’s a good idea, it’s not safe.

From what I saw with the ‘92 riots in Koreatown, no one should be shooting or be shot, including business owners protecting businesses. No one should be armed and trying to take things into their own hands. I have insurance for everything.

It’s not really my fight. I can try to protect my stuff, but my stuff isn’t that important to me.

Barbara (Sky) Burrell, owner of Sky’s Gourmet Tacos on Pico:

I don’t know how it’s going to even out, but I know one thing: This city has got to get a grip, everybody in here. This could be even more serious than 1992.

I’m seeing similarities, but in a different geographic area. Before it was more concentrated in the Crenshaw area. People were trying to protect their businesses on Pico, I was one of them. I stayed there until they declared martial law.

Los Angeles has a resilience that is incredible. I saw this in 1992. I was alive back in 1965 when they had the Chicago riots — that’s where I’m from. I was a young, young girl, but I recall that there was as struggle to regain control there. Los Angles is a badass city, okay? The people here are going to stand for what’s right.

Andrew Kirschner, chef/owner of Tar & Roses Santa Monica:

It’s devastating. We were going to start prepping up and opening Monday of next week, and get ourselves ready for the new normal with COVID-19. We wanted to get our team back to work.

God knows how long it’s going to take, they just completely destroyed the restaurant.

Everything has been destroyed. All of our lighting fixtures, all of our mirrors, our countertops, our marble, our tabletops and chairs and dishes. Everything. Every bottle on the wine rack, smashed against the floor.

Not a peaceful protest, I can tell you that much.

Santa Monica was targeted. I kept telling myself throughout the coronavirus that Santa Monica was safe. It’s been a ghost town the past few months, why would I need to board up the place and protect it?

I’m going to try my best [to recover]. It’s certainly deflating. I have my moments. I ask myself: Why even bother? It’s worse than the fire. The fire was a lot less damage. But I’ll say this: The outpouring of community support is really amazing. Hundreds of people in the streets with brooms, cleaning up, removing graffiti. You do see how the community can rally together.

Mike Kassar, co-owner of Wexler’s Deli:

It just erupted. We were aware that there was a peaceful protest that was starting on Montana. All of a sudden I got a call from a manager that things were getting pretty crazy, so I drove over there and said close up right away. There was total mayhem. A couple of people from my restaurant and I really held it down. We stood in front of our store; the place next door got completely trashed.

Basically every food and beverage establishment for ten blocks got trashed. My suggestion to friends in the restaurant business is to stand outside, be strong but non-confrontational. People are upset, we all should be upset. It’s terrible. We didn’t want to spark anyone. We just stood there and protected the business and our families. Stand strong.

We were fortunate that nothing got broken at all. I know that’s not the case for dozens of restaurants.

Izzy Freeman of Izzy’s Deli, Santa Monica:

We’re up here on 15th and Wilshire. Luckily, they left us alone. They ransacked the Rite-Aid a block away, and they ran through the Gap store on 18th and Wilshire. They didn’t touch us.

They told us to close at 4 p.m. — Santa Monica police came in and told us to close. We didn’t board up the windows, we have too many. I wouldn’t even know where to go get the boards to do that; I just took my chances. Luckily they just left us alone.

We’re right across the street from Santa Monica hospital, and they had security on the opposite corner to guard the hospital. I guess that was a deterrent.

It was very scary. It drove me crazy. I have security cameras in my restaurant, and I spent the whole night watching on my computer to see if we would make it through the night.

Just like in 1992, [restaurants] will come back. They’ll rebuild. They sure did a job on Santa Monica. It was crazy.

Arman Oganesyan, co-founder Dave’s Hot Chicken on Fairfax:

The store is good. They didn’t break anything, just a couple of small tags. The community came out and really cleaned it up for us.

It’s interesting to see images of the store become a little part of history. There are so many interesting voices being heard right now, and that’s great to see. We really support that.

Everyone wants everything go back to how it used to be, to everyone getting along, going out to eat again. We just have to take it a day at a time.

Ria Barbosa, chef/partner at Petite Peso in Downtown LA:

Well to start, I am 100 percent behind the protesters, their safety and the message we’re all trying to get across. Yes we lost a day of service but that’s just a day. We can recoup. There are too many people to name who will never be able to make up a day let alone the rest of their lives, and that’s what we need to remember this is about. A buddy told me he saw two BMWs pull up late Friday night, where eight women came out with bags headed towards the jewelry district. That’s NOT what this is about and those are the isolated groups we need to call out. We support the protesters, but NOT the looters.

Jon Shook, co-owner of Jon & Vinny’s and Animal:

We agree with the protests but are not into the destruction. It’s been disheartening to see. It should’ve been a big weekend with a lot of shops planning to reopen this weekend. We are already struggling. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I believe that all the cops who were involved should be arrested. Peaceful protests get results.

Vinny Dotolo, co-owner of Jon & Vinny’s and Animal:

It was a little shocking to see restaurants along Sunset Boulevard [in West Hollywood] on Sunday open again like Pink Taco and [Sunset] Trocadero. I forgot that we were allowed to open. And there was almost complete ignorance [of] what was happening blocks away. For some people it was just business as usual. We had just started the conversation to bring people back and reopen. I hope they take the other police officers to jail and people can find some justice. All of the businesses that went down from this can get back to work toward the issues in America.

Security guard oversees the front of Badmaash in Fairfax District
Security guard oversees the front of Badmaash in Fairfax District
Matthew Kang

Devine Johnson, executive chef of Margo’s in Santa Monica:

The protesters should go to an open space like Exposition Park. Don’t go into areas where people have jobs. I was brought in here to do something great, and I ain’t gonna let nobody fuck that up for me.

Stephen Kalt, whose restaurant Spartina was right in the middle of unrest along Melrose Avenue on Saturday night:

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, the staff was shaking and scared. We have a primarily Latinx team working in the kitchen. We’re all very sympathetic to what’s going on and supportive of what’s happening. There’s a true, on-the-ground, visceral reaction.

I personally think there’s no place for looting. I can’t imagine a situation where looting goes hand in hand with social justice. I do understand incredible, intense pain and anguish from hundreds of years of oppression and racism in our country. We got out early and closed up. We have all glass windows. We literally saw people breaking windows, starting fires, and ripping plywood off to look. Our business has a fence, is offset from Melrose, and was spared. We got lucky and survived. It’s all tragic. It’s a horror that our country is in this kind of situation in 2020.

Ilysha Buss, director of marketing at the Original Farmers Market:

We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and follow the direction of the City of LA and Mayor Garcetti accordingly. We’re thankful that the damage suffered this weekend was minimal, and we are very grateful to our neighbors and the LA community for the outpouring of support and offers for help we received. We acknowledge everyone’s right to protest peacefully and hope for the health and safety of our Angeleno family during this time.

Caitlin Cutler, co-owner of Ronan on Melrose Avenue:

First of all, Ronan was incredibly lucky to come out of Saturday night/Sunday morning relatively unscathed, and our hearts go out to all the businesses who were not so fortunate. Overcoming looting and vandalism after what all small businesses have been through due to COVID will not be easy. That being said, the issue of racism in America needed to come to a head. We support the continued protests, regardless of what sacrifices we have to make by temporarily closing our business. The looters who destroyed Melrose were not the same people protesting the death of George Floyd, and we were very sad to see such an important moment being taken advantage of.

As far as the opening of dining rooms, that issue seems like a distant memory given the current issues we are facing this week. I will say that I think the way it was handled by the local government was incredibly reckless. We didn’t receive any direct communication from the health department until this morning, yet we were heading into one of our busiest services of the week and had people entering our business expecting to sit down. We are already overwhelmed trying to coordinate roughly 80 to-go orders, now we have to explain to a frustrated person why they cannot sit at our bar?

I believe in the freedom to conduct business in a safe fashion, and there may be other restaurants that have figured out a way to do so, but I cannot imagine asking one of my servers to approach guests while they are eating. Eating and drinking are the only activities you cannot do while wearing a mask. I don’t feel we are there yet, and my staff doesn’t feel we are there yet. We may find a modified business model down the line, but it’s going to take a lot of careful contemplation. For right now, I’m more comfortable letting people take our food to their homes (the pizzas reheat nicely!) and enjoying their meal there.

Jeff Won, co-owner of Jun Won restaurant in Koreatown:

As soon as we heard they were coming down Third Street, I closed around 6 p.m. on Saturday. We opened today, so we’re going to see how it is. There’s curfew again. We ain’t got much to lose in here. The worst thing that could happen is a window will break. We’re going to do what we can.

Signs at Prime Pizza on Fairfax
Signs at Prime Pizza on Fairfax
Matthew Kang

Yonnie Hagos from Hilltop Coffee in View Park-Windsor Hills and Inglewood:

In the midst of civil unrest, we’ve seen members of our community take to the streets to protest peacefully and return home to protest in another way, with their dollars. We are constantly being tagged in social media posts along with other black-owned businesses as places to support. Our community, which has definitely changed in diversity, is doing its part individually to protect businesses like ours economically and are extending to others a call to action to do the same. From black folks, to Hispanic, to Asian, to white, and everything in between, we’re grateful to be on the receiving end of individuals who are walking the talk in small ways toward creating real change.

JJ Lee of Beverly Soon Tofu in Koreatown:

We were open during the 1992 riots. We closed when it got bad and other businesses around us were closing. At that point in the business, we hadn’t really ever closed other than for the one day of the year we used to close which was January 1. We got all of the workers/staff out and we pushed the wooden tables against the door and windows so if there was some sort of break in, the heavy wooden tables would somehow be a barrier for people to want to come inside.

We didn’t really have anything of value inside but it was our business, one that we had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make it what it was that we just didn’t want anything to happen to it. We hand-wrote a sign saying that we were a minority-owned small business and please let’s just keep the peace. We prayed it would be okay and after a few days of closing, we were lucky that the restaurant was okay. Scarier times now but we carry the same message of supporting minority-owned small businesses and keeping the peace.

We did not open our dining room over the weekend. Our space is really small so with the current rules of partial capacity, it didn’t make sense for us to open yet. We are going to wait a bit before we consider opening for dine-in. We closed early over the weekend due to the protests. We are taking it day by day.

Lisa Powers, operations manager for Ye Olde Kings Head in Santa Monica:

Looking over the security footage, just watching it as it happened has been really difficult.

Basically, because of the curfew, our guys left at probably 4:15 p.m. At maybe 4:30 I got an alarm sensor on my phone and so I looked on the cameras and I was just astounded. It was just teams of people running into the gift shop, jumping over the counter, throwing the cash registers, looting cigarettes, anything they could get their hands on. Then coming in with suitcases and cold boxes, taking alcohol and even sodas. Someone came in and took beach balls, which you can get anywhere. All the windows were smashed. The ATM machine as well, which was dragged outside. We have a video of maybe 40 looters smashing it open. Even my office, with HR and accounting files, has been totally trashed. Just senseless, senseless. Awful.

We will reopen as soon as we possibly can. We will not be defeated by this.

Dana Tanner of Restauration Long Beach:

I’m all for people protesting. They marched past the restaurant yesterday at around 6 p.m. At first I was nervous because I didn’t know what to anticipate and then after they came and went and marched by again I was fine. The message is important. It’s unfortunate that the real danger is in the people that see the protest as a crime of opportunity and sneak in to it and do the damage.

Barb Batiste of B Sweet and Big Boi:

You take two steps forward and then this. We’ve had to close early the last two nights. On top of what we’re already going through, and trying to stay safe. I know some restaurants were gearing up to open their dining rooms. My restaurants are so small I couldn’t do that. We were just getting used to the new normal and then this happened. I’m a minority female business owner. I definitely believe that people were hurt from past incidents and should absolutely fight for the right things we believe in. I don’t believe in the criminal activity, the stealing and the looting. It’s just hurtful. I hope we can come to some peaceful situation. I want to support all the good. I practice that in my daily life and in the business. It’s hard to watch. Thankfully customers have been so loyal, we are grateful. We’re just trying to stay relevant. We’re doing our best supporting all the positive things.

Victor Delgado, co-founder of Tacos 1986:

Obviously it’s very unfortunate with all the looting. I can speak for everyone here that we’re really with the movement. Police brutality needs to stop. It’s unfortunate that [the looting] is affecting small businesses of all kinds. I hope it stops and I hope we can find a better way to make change. We feed a lot of police officers at our restaurants. We thank them for their service and offer them a discount. You can’t just blame all of them.

Animal

435 North Fairfax Avenue, , CA 90036 (323) 782-9225 Visit Website

Beer Belly Long Beach

255 Long Beach Boulevard, , CA 90802 (562) 436-2337 Visit Website

Big Boi

2027 Sawtelle Boulevard, , CA 90025 (310) 963-9769 Visit Website

Dave’s Hot Chicken

5166 Lankershim Boulevard, , CA 91606 (818) 358-4793 Visit Website

Jun Won Restaurant

414 South Western Avenue, , CA 90020 (213) 383-8855

Tacos 1986

609 South Spring Street, , CA 90014 (213) 988-7202 Visit Website

Petite Peso

419 West 7th Street, , CA 90014 (209) 438-7376 Visit Website

RESTAURATION

2708 East 4th Street, , CA 90814 (562) 439-8822 Visit Website

Tar & Roses

602 Santa Monica Boulevard, , CA 90401 (310) 587-0700 Visit Website

The Original Farmers Market

6333 West 3rd Street, , CA 90036 (323) 933-9211 Visit Website

Wexler’s Deli

10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, , CA 90067 (310) 203-9776 Visit Website

Spartina

7505 Melrose Avenue, , CA 90046 (323) 782-1023 Visit Website

Ronan

7315 Melrose Avenue, , CA 90046 (323) 917-5100 Visit Website

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