By Emily Alvarenga and Tammy Murga
When Simon Mee, owner of Newhall Refinery, heard that officials were ordering bars and wineries to close once again, he wondered if restaurants would be next.
Sure enough, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday restaurants in Los Angeles County and 18 other counties must cease dine-in operations for at least three weeks amid a COVID-19 surge.
“This one’s a big blow because we just literally opened a couple of weeks ago for dine-in with all the restrictions,” Mee said. “With the limited seating, it was hard enough. We were barely making it then.”
Mee had not only recently invested in personal protective equipment for customers and reduced staff, but also a new QR system that allowed guests to pull up menus, place orders and even pay from their own devices.
“We spent thousands of dollars on supplies … and then to whack us with this right when we just got our groove on, it’s a pretty big hit for us,” he added.
At Egg Plantation, which Mee also co-owns with his wife, Shannon, the situation is a bit different, as the restaurant has room to seat about 100 people outside, but Newhall Refinery announced Wednesday it would temporarily close until further notice.
“I’m not even doing takeout and delivery because it doesn’t even pay the bills,” Mee said. “I just need some time to reassess, crunch the numbers and then I’ll know what direction to go in. It’s unbelievable.”
The same was true for Le Chène French Cuisine on Sierra Highway, according to owner Juan Alonso.
“We understand the dangers, but this back-and-forth is going to kill lots of businesses,” he said. “We had to close because our patio only allows for six socially distanced tables and we’re a high-end restaurant. Not many people order a salad or fillet mignon. We got the (Paycheck Protection Program loan) but that money’s gone now. I feel for my employees.”
After Crazy Otto’s Diner in Valencia was closed by L.A. County Department of Public Health officials for allowing its customers to dine in before stay-at-home restrictions were lifted, co-owners Jonathan Carrillo and Brian Hernandez said the restaurant is in “survival mode,” but they weren’t going to take any chances this time, quickly announcing they were transitioning to outdoor seating only as restrictions were once again put in place.
“We adapted pretty quickly, but it’s going to be a challenge to really see if people are going to want to come out and eat outside when it gets hot … and hard for our employees to not only work with the mask, but be outside,” Carrillo said.
Though the locale’s landlord allowed them to convert four parking stalls into outdoor seating, giving them the opportunity to set up canopies and tables, Carrillo isn’t sure it’ll be enough.
“Today, compared to what we’ve been normally doing the past couple of weeks of dining in, we were probably down about 25% to 30%,” he added.
One local business has heard these cries for help and has doubled down on operations to help restaurants in and around the Santa Clarita Valley adjust to the everchanging coronavirus restrictions.
24/7 Events, a tents and event rentals company, has seen a recent uptick in business, with restaurants acquiring everything from extra tables and chairs to building a deck for outdoor seating.
“This has been a rollercoaster but it’s the perfect opportunity to jump in and help our businesses, specifically restaurants — they’ve dealt with so much already,” said Stacie House, director of business development with 24/7 Events.
The company has received dozens of calls and, on Thursday, five restaurants were working with them to set up tents in their parking lots and other adjustments for what could be at least three weeks of outdoor-only dining.
Still, some restaurants said that while they have small sections for outdoor eating, such as Las Delicias Classica Taqueria on Golden Valley Road, pickup and delivery were expected to drive most of the activity since stay-at-home directives commenced.