Santa Clarita businesses respond to closures

Los Angeles County Seal.

Bella Cucina Italian Restaurant had to temporarily let go of nearly its entire staff following the announcement that Los Angeles County officials ordered the closure of all bars, nightclubs, theaters, gyms and entertainment centers.

Now, like many other restaurateurs, master chef Luca Luca Toumadi and his partner are preparing only take-out orders to make ends meet.

“Hopefully, we have some business, but this is not a good situation for the country,” Toumadi said.

With seven chefs, five waiters and a total of nearly 20 employees, they weren’t happy to be let go, but neither was Toumadi in having to do so. The question he got most from them? “How am I going to pay my rent?”

“I don’t think they’ll be thrown out of their houses (in the current situation), but who is going to pay for them?” he asked.

Toumadi asked himself the same question, hoping they can make enough to afford the restaurant’s rent.

“It’s going to be horrible,” he said, adding that it has been hard for him to see these same things happening here as have happened in his home country of Italy, where things are still much worse, he said. “It’s not the end of the world, but I think we have to support local businesses (to make it through this).”

Attorney Brian Koegle of Poole Shaffery & Koegle LLP said he has heard the same from a number of businesses as well, who are concerned about having to do mass layoffs and mass furloughs.

“What they have done is forced the hand of most small restaurants and bars,” Koegle said. “The fallout is going to be immense, especially for small businesses in the service-based world.”

Koegle believes this message isn’t necessarily for the business owners. Instead, it’s for the consumers.

“At this moment, there are no real enforcement measures,” he said. “Really what this is is a consideration of consumer activities, rather than a direct order, telling consumers, ‘We don’t want you to go to bars and restaurants,’ rather than forbiddance by business owners.”

This is forcing some really difficult decisions on small businesses, and Koegle believes these changes will be catastrophic for many smaller business owners, while larger companies have the ability to take the hit.

Dennis Marazzito, the owner of Drifters Cocktails in Canyon Country, is one of the many business owners who is simply confused, unsure of what his next steps will be.

“It’s not very clear what’s actually going on,” Marazzito said. “We want to stop the spread of the virus and be part of the solution, but don’t want to go bankrupt. We’re a small business and not only do I have myself to worry about, but all my people who work for me. I don’t know what I can do to help them.”

After a number of updates from the state, county and city, Marazzito said they still need to clarify how they’re going to help small businesses. “They really just need to have people calling businesses and explaining to us exactly what’s going on.”

“A lot of us are living paycheck to paycheck, trying to make ends meet,” he added. “Unemployment doesn’t cover your entire wage, especially for bartenders who make tips.”

Still, Marazzito believes everyone just needs to stick together and take care of one another, especially those who are now unemployed or those who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus and need assistance.

Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth touched on a similar sentiment during his second live-streamed message of the day.

“Businesses are encouraged to remain open to provide delivery, which if you want to help our local businesses and help the economy, take advantage of that,” he said. “Call your local restaurant and order in lunch or dinner and help keep those businesses going and by supporting them, even though you can’t go eat in the restaurant.”

Though President Donald Trump announced last week that he would be loosening the guidelines for Small Business Administration loans and making funds more available, there has yet to be an answer for many of these questions small businesses have.

“I have been instructing people to keep an eye on the website, especially if concerned with cash flow,” Koegle said. “But for those of us in the business world, we have to continue on our business model smarter, more cautiously.”

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