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In Culver City, Unexpected Curfews Set Restaurant Life on Edge

“What’s the bigger picture here?”

An evening exterior shot of a street with lights and patio diners.
Downtown Culver City
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Since late last week, Los Angeles has been rocked by days of powerful, largely peaceful protests and long nights of renewed lockdown as city and county officials constrict movement with rolling twelve-hour curfews.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets during a global health crisis to decry police brutality and chant Black Lives Matter at an increasingly militarized police and National Guard presence, mourning over decades of needless black American death: a Minneapolis man named George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer and three others; a woman named Breonna Taylor, shot by police in her own home in Louisville; a jogger named Ahmaud Arbery, killed by vigilantes in Georgia in February; and a restaurant owner named David McAtee, killed just last weekend.

The curfews have come suddenly and chaotically, roiling an already tense constituency and leaving many workers in the dark as buses stop running without warning, and police wait around corners with zip ties to arrest those who could not have known; Los Angeles is a majority Latino city, and the push notification curfew alerts sent to phones have not always been published in Spanish.

In Culver City, today’s 4 p.m. curfew was only announced publicly at 10:48 a.m., the start of any open restaurant’s lunch service. “It’s miserable,” said Mike Garrett, co-owner of barbecue restaurant Maple Block Meat Co. “For those staff that have to plan their transportation, it’s really unfortunate. We’re honoring our six-hour shifts, so it’s costing us a lot of money.”

The surprise loss of a dinner shift, even just for takeout and delivery, means lost product as well. Maple Block’s brisket and ribs-focused menu requires up-front meat costs (which are rising every day) and hours of low-and-slow smoking. “I would say that 70 percent of our business is at night,” Garrett says. Even as his staff begins to button up the restaurant for another unexpectedly early evening, they are unsure of how much food to prepare for tomorrow. Nobody knows what, if any, curfews will be in place.

“We’ve got to stick with patience, because anything other than that is just counter-productive. I mean, who’s calling the shots here? What’s the bigger picture?”

An outdoor patio with string lights and a food truck during the evening.
The Truck Stop
The Truck Stop

The question is not rhetorical. Today alone, various curfews for the sprawling county of ten million include Beverly Hills (1 p.m.), Santa Monica (2 p.m.), Culver City (4 p.m.) and Los Angeles proper (6 p.m.), which matches the countywide timeline. A citywide phone alert yesterday announced a 6 p.m. curfew for all, followed minutes later by an update that it was actually 5 p.m., which then had to be walked back on live television by mayor Eric Garcetti.

The 5 p.m. follow-up had been meant for Glendale only, one of 88 independent cities in the county, but someone had pushed the “send to everyone” button instead.

Restaurants, informed only on Friday evening (again, with mere hours’ notice) that they could once again open their doors for dining in, now must grapple with paying for plywood, if they can even find it. “Me and all the other restaurants bought signs and hired people back and did all the necessary COVID-19 renovations,” says Kam Micelli of the Truck Stop in Culver City. “All that went out the window basically overnight.”

Micelli’s business should be built for the new countywide reopening mandates. The mostly outdoor space began as a permanent patio for a rotating calendar of food trucks, but with the pandemic, the lockdown, and now the curfews, the entire model seems untenable. “Why would anyone want to go outside?” asks Micelli. “You can get arrested, tased, or maybe get coronavirus.”

Downtown Culver City restaurant Honey’s Kettle has been standing strong with protesters. “This pain cuts deep,” the restaurant said in a post on its Instagram page today. “George Floyd was a brother to all who call this country home, and we are all feeling the pain and hurt from his unjust death.”

They’re far from alone in the broad restaurant industry. Yesterday, Sky Burrell from 28-year-old Pico Boulevard restaurant Sky’s Gourmet Tacos put it simply: “Los Angeles is a badass city, okay? The people here are going to stand for what’s right.”

Garrett from Maple Block feels much the same way. “Everybody’s in complete agreement with the protests,” he says, “but it’s frustrating to have the city dictate our business just because of some looters.” Isolated instances of looting have been far from the norm across the myriad protests in greater Los Angeles, and they represent only a loss of property, not life. Culver City has not had its windows shattered, but is still being told — along with other peaceful areas like the Crenshaw district, Leimert Park, and Boyle Heights — to lock its doors. What tomorrow brings for restaurant owners, workers, diners, and protesters, is unknown. Everyone is watching the clock — especially anyone who has been waiting years for social change.