California could allow restaurants to expand outdoor services

Newhall Press Room is located on Main Street. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal
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Restaurants and bars in the Santa Clarita Valley could be getting a bit of reprieve from the stay-at-home restrictions, as California Alcoholic Beverage Control officials updated their regulatory relief notices on alcohol sale and consumption.

Under the new regulations, businesses could be permitted to serve alcoholic beverages and food on adjacent sidewalks, parking lots and in city streets in the coming months. 

Over the course of the pandemic, the ABC has provided temporary relief measures, such as allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages to go, as well as suspending the enforcement of a number of other regulations. 

Under these new measures, businesses that apply could be granted a temporary catering authorization, which would allow them to create an outdoor area to consume food and alcohol, expanding into adjacent areas within close proximity to the businesses that are closed to public access. 

This would go beyond a traditional liquor license, which has always restricted the purchase and consumption of alcohol to the restaurant’s premises in the past.

“We want it to be an area in control of the licensee, where they have … a good line of sight and can see what’s going on to make sure that the basic laws are being followed,” ABC spokesman John Carr said. “But we realized that they need to be able to spread people out, which is the whole concept behind doing this.” 

That being said, there are still strict conditions and businesses are going to have to show they can meet a slew of requirements before approval, required to submit a diagram of the proposed temporary area and get approval from local law enforcement. 

“We’re working with local authorities to try and make this happen as quickly as possible because we understand that there’s been a lot of economic stress and this might be a way of helping,” Carr added.

These new measures would go into effect for businesses that apply only once dine-in restrictions have been lifted, and they’re expected to be removed as soon as stay-at-home restrictions are lifted permanently.

“We just put up all the forms on our website for any of those licensed businesses that want to expand their premises, and we’re certainly here to answer their questions and help them,” Carr said. “There’s no reason why someone shouldn’t contact the ABC to see what they can start doing to prepare for the day when they’re able to do that, because we realized that people want to see things move as fast as they can to help their business.” 

Dan Zebrowski, co-owner of Newhall Press Room, said the new regulations will be a game-changer for his business.

“We’re getting crushed right now,” Zebrowski said. “Outside of the take-out business we do, we don’t have as extensive a menu offering as the people around us … so, for us, if people can come and grab a glass of wine, which is what we’re mostly known for, it opens business back up to us. … And, if we can open up the sidewalk, that’d be phenomenal.” 

Newhall Press Room has already taken advantage of a number of the ABC’s unprecedented changes, delivering wine to its Newhall Press Club members among other things. 

“We bought tamper-proof, sealable plastic bottles, and we’ve been selling glasses of wine to go, and we’ve been doing remote tasting via Zoom,” he added. “That’s been important for us because it helps keep us in front of our customers.” 

In addition, Zebrowski has begun talks with other restaurants on Main Street to follow in Ventura’s footsteps and close a portion of the street to put up tents and allow restaurants and stores to expand into the street. 

The Ventura City Council announced Monday it would allow that city’s Main Street to do so under an “emergency economic development policy” and begin when Ventura is approved to take the next steps toward reopening. 

Even so, Zebrowski is unsure whether the ABC would allow each establishment to serve patrons in this manner, and says there’s still more to learn about the specific guidelines. 

For George Thomas, owner of Route 66 Classic Grill in Canyon Country, he, too, says he’s cautiously optimistic, as he’s often hosted events in the restaurant’s parking lot and understands the strict nature of the ABC’s alcohol policies.

“When we have our events, if we wanted to have a temporary bar outside or if we wanted to serve alcohol outside, they’ve been pretty restrictive in the past,” Thomas said. “Without knowing the details, it’s hard to say how it’s gonna affect us. It sure can’t hurt, though.” 

Yet, Route 66 is fortunate that the restaurant’s layout allows for physical distancing, Thomas added.

“If we have to do 50% occupancy, we can just stagger people every other booth, which would put us within that 6-foot guideline,” he said, “(though it) obviously is going to impact us financially because we’re not going to be able to fill all of our seats.” 

Like many restaurant owners, Thomas still worries though he’ll have a capacity for 50% of customers, his overhead remains largely unchanged.

“Costs, like our utilities, rent, insurance, they’re pretty much fixed, but we’re going to be reduced, which is really going to impact us,” Thomas said. “We try to keep our costs down during the shutdown, but once it opens up, it’s going to be hard to keep those costs down. 

“Plus, a lot of our income depends on our bike nights and car shows, and I have no clue when we’ll be able to open those up again,” he added. “But everything helps for sure.” 

Steven Dinkowitz, the owner of The Backyard Grub n’ Brews, has already begun planning for his reopening. 

“We have a patio that’s going to help us a lot,” Dinkowitz said. “We already changed our whole patio up, our tables are spaced apart almost 8 feet apart, instead of 6, and we’re following all the guidelines.”

The Backyard has been open for takeout since the shutdown began, yet they are still struggling.

“The hospitality business, which is restaurants, we’re all hurting very badly,” he added. “We’re all down anywhere from 80%-95%, and I’m down 90%-95% myself.” 

That being said, Dinkowitz agrees that any relief, like that being offered by the ABC, would help his business.

“Anything would help us,” he said. “If we can put tables out front and in our parking lot, close off one of the aisles, or something, it’s going to make a big difference … Now, It’s just getting the OK for us to open.” 

For more information on the ABC’s guidelines, visit abc.ca.gov/fourth-notice-of-regulatory-relief. To view all coronavirus-related stories, visit signalscv.com/category/news/coronavirus.

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