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After Confirmed Coronavirus Case, Hollywood’s Osteria la Buca Asks: Now What?

The 15-year-old Italian restaurant is closing to clean and regroup as the coronavirus continues to grow in California

A worker in a mask bags grocery items while inside of an otherwise closed sunny restaurant.
A worker at Osteria la Buca
Osteria la Buca

A worker at Melrose Italian restaurant Osteria la Buca has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, prompting the long-running neighborhood restaurant to shut its doors completely for the time being. Owner Stephen Sakulsky tells Eater that the plan is to reopen again for takeout and delivery in the coming days, either by the end of this week or early next, but not until the place has been thoroughly disinfected (a cleaning crew is on site currently) and the staff feels safe.

Whereas other restaurants may worry that announcing a COVID-related temporary closure could lead to a negative perception among customers down the line, Sakulsky is betting that being the type of business to speak up and speak honestly is even more crucial during the ongoing pandemic. “That’s the big thing, is trust,” says Sakulsky by phone. “People want to feel safe. Being transparent builds that trust.”

Sakulsky announced the closure, and the reason why, on Instagram last Friday, saying in part:

The health and safety of our staff and community has been our number one priority since we opened our doors and more so as we all navigate Covid-19. We have been vigilant and upfront with our actions and thoughts on what we are doing and how we feel in regard to all that is going on in the world around us. We are engrained in our community and our staff is truly a family.

Unfortunately, a member of our family has tested positive for Covid-19 and as a result we are closing our doors until further notice.

The employee is not a full-time front of house staff member or on-site manager, and had not been in the restaurant space for over a week. “We don’t know where it came from, because it didn’t come from inside the restaurant,” Sakulsky says of the unnamed employee’s COVID contraction. The employee’s primary job is to liaison between the restaurant’s kitchen staff and various farmers markets. According to the Instagram announcement, the entire staff at the restaurant will also get tested for COVID-19.

Osteria la Buca had not yet begun to offer dine-in services to its customers, relying instead on a limited menu of Italian staples for takeout and delivery, as well as pantry goods, grocery items, and online alcohol sales. Sakulsky says the restaurant has done well financially in its 15 years, and reopening more fully isn’t a top priority right now. “We’ve had the luxury of building a rainy day fund,” he says, “That’s why we do these things, so we can be prepared for this.”

As for when a full reopening may take place, Sakulsky won’t put a date on anything, because so much remains terrifyingly unknown. “It’s a reminder that this thing is still very real,” he says of the positive test from his employee. We’ve gone above and beyond in everything to keep our diners and our staff safe, and this still threw us for a loop.”

In short: the coronavirus, and possible pathways to therapeutics or a vaccine, largely control the timeline, not the restaurant. “We don’t think it’s time to open up our dining room, because it is out there and it is very serious.”

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