When a fire severely damaged a one-mile stretch of the 10 Freeway in Downtown Los Angeles on November 11, the entire city felt the impact. The day after, traffic extended throughout the city’s freeways and clogged local streets. Officials temporarily closed this part stretch of the 10 in both directions between Alameda Street and the East LA Interchange. Local travelers are mostly avoiding the area, but the events over the last week have also greatly affected nearby Downtown restaurants.
Initially, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and suggested the fire was set intentionally as an act of arson. At a press conference last week, Mayor Karen Bass encouraged people to stay off side streets and stated, “Losing this stretch of the 10 Freeway will take time and money from people’s lives and businesses.” She also noted that repairs could take anywhere from three to five weeks.
I-10 remains FULLY CLOSED until further notice between the East LA interchange & Alameda St due to a fire that damaged the fwy. Avoid the area, expect major delays & seek alternate routes to events in #DTLA or use @metrolosangeles public transit. See detour for WB. & EB I-10 pic.twitter.com/oBduHIFTXY— Caltrans District 7 (@CaltransDist7) November 12, 2023
That schedule changed as of Thursday when both Bass and Newsom announced the 10 will reopen on Tuesday, November 21. Crews have been working around the clock to repair the structure, but food operators are figuring out how to deal with the traffic, plus the temporary decrease in customers and revenue. Eater spoke with three operators to see how they’re navigating this path.
Dina Samson owns Rossoblu with her husband and chef Steve Samson. Surrounded by wholesale food, fashion, and flower businesses, she describes her fine-dining Italian restaurant as more of a destination. After looking in their reservation software this week, Dina noticed some irregularities in the dinner service.
“On Thursday, I looked at our OpenTable report to check lead times that show when people make their reservations,” says Dina. “People who book reservations 8 to 14 days [in advance] have dropped like crazy. People seem to not want to come or maybe think, ‘Let’s stay away from Downtown.’ The week before the freeway collapse, 74 percent of our reservations were made eight days or more ahead. [As of Thursday], that number is 18 percent.”
Blocks away at Cuernavaca’s Grill, co-owner Nayomie Mendoza says her family-operated daytime restaurant had a 40 percent dine-in decrease over the last six days. “Our downtown LA location is getting hit the hardest because that one has more catering,” says Mendoza. “We usually see a business spike two weeks before Thanksgiving, plus we always see tourists or locals come to the Flower District or Fashion District in general.”
Mendoza also noticed a bigger loss in her catering business. “I’d say we’re down 45 percent with catering,” says Mendoza. “We deliver catering to a lot of big brands that have factories in areas like Vernon, the heart of DTLA, and Bellflower. What used to take 30 minutes is now a two-hour drive. It got to the point where we considered if this was worth it for us. We considered taking the streets but there’s a lot of traffic there as well. We had last-minute cancellations from our end which is inconvenient for our clients that we’ve had for years.”
The day after the fire and Freeway closure, Smorgasburg operator Zach Brooks was stunned to see his weekly food and retail market unaffected. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” says Brooks. “Our attendance was a little better than the week before. I think it’s because Sunday doesn’t have rush hour traffic.”
The aforementioned concerns by Samson, Mendoza, and Brooks are short-lived as the 10 will reopen two days before Thanksgiving. But with thin profit margins in an incredibly competitive restaurant landscape, Brooks notes what each operator thinks about regularly. “When you care about the businesses that sell food at your market, you worry every week about how many people are going to come,” says Brooks. “If a major closure like this makes you lose 10 or 20 percent of your business, that can have a huge effect.”