After Crazy Otto’s Diner in Valencia was closed Sunday by L.A. County Department of Public Health officials for allowing its customers to dine in despite stay-at-home restrictions, co-owners Jonathan Carrillo and Brian Hernandez say they knew they had to find a way to reopen.
“We were packaging every single order to go, and the next thing you know, we had people sitting at our tables,” Carrillo said. “Little by little, customers just kept sitting down (to eat), and it kind of just spiraled out of control.”
Though there was a “Now Open” sign hanging in front of the restaurant, Carrillo says that meant “open in general, not for dine-in,” and any posts made online about the opening were made by the public.
Even so, Carrillo says they continued abiding by a majority of the Public Health guidelines, ensuring customers kept socially distanced and sanitizing after each one.
“We’re a diner, our customers love coming in, sitting down and eating in the establishment, not taking orders to go,” he said. “We’re not fortunate to have a drive thru, so it’s been crazy slow.”
That being said, the diner has taken a big hit due to the restrictions, as have its employees, many of whom typically work two jobs to stay afloat.
“COVID-19 definitely has been affecting all of us,” he added. “We’re down about 90% month-over-month just based on not being able to open.”
So, they decided to allow some dine-in customers simply out of fear of losing their business, Carrillo said.
“Between Brian and I, we have six kids between us, and we were afraid to lose our business,” he added. “Like I said, little by little, customers were sitting down and eating, and I guess the word got out.”
On Sunday, Public Health ordered the diner to shut down for seven days with its license suspended.
“If we continued operating, we could be facing criminal charges up to losing our business completely,” Carrillo said. “It’s definitely scary when we have families to feed and are trying to provide for them and for our employees.”
Since the closure, the co-owners hired an attorney, who has represented them in discussions with Public Health officials.
“We’ve been very cooperative with the Health Department, and are following the recommendations and requirements,” Carrillo said, adding that Public Health officials have not given them any estimates of when they’ll be allowed to reopen for dine-in. “They were very informative and just saying, ‘Hang in there. We are working on it to help get you guys open safely and as fast as possible.’”
After receiving an inspection Tuesday, the restaurant is expected to reopen Wednesday with approval from Public Health for take-out orders only.
“We will be opening our doors, following the social distancing guidelines and ensuring that the community feels safe,” Carrillo said, adding that Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth has also been an advocate for them. “Without his support and guidance, we wouldn’t be able to get to expedite to get us open really quickly.”
“It’s unfortunate that businesses, like Crazy Otto’s and others, are being forced to choose between trying to stay open, support their families and support their employees, while running afoul of state and county orders,” Smyth added, “but we are we are happy that their seven-day suspension has been been reduced, they can get out of the penalty box a few days early, get back to providing their services to their customers, and help keep their their business up and running.”
For the co-owners, it’s the support they’ve received from the community through the whole ordeal that has kept them hopeful they can survive this.
“The response that we’ve had from the community and the support has been just overwhelming,” Carrillo said, adding that they’re extremely thankful.
“So, we’re just hoping that the community will continue to support us,” he added. “And, the best way they can support us is to come and place orders to go, so we can keep our employees employed and ensure that they have a job so they can support their families.”
Now, Carrillo says they’re going to try to get creative to find ways to generate business while continuing to follow Public Health guidelines. “We have got to start thinking outside the box now because right now, there’s no end in sight.”
Though unsure how, Carrillo says they’re going to keep hanging in there.
“We’re excited to keep feeding the community here for many, many years,” he said.