Restaurant owners in Pasadena and throughout California are calling on the state government to act as a report by the California Restaurant Association warns 30 percent of the state’s eateries are likely to go under as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
And in Pasadena, which has more restaurants per capita than New York City, owners said they fear the local impact could be even worse.
Exact figures on closures in the city were not available, as restaurants are not required to notify the city when they go out of business, said Pasadena Economic Development Department Division Manager Eric Duyshart. And the fate of some restaurants remains unclear.
“For instance, some restaurants are closed, but are hoping to sell their business and open back up,” Duyshart said. “At the beginning of the year, the city had over 600 food establishments. Although we expect the closure number to grow, so far, fewer than a twenty have shared plans to close permanently.”
But Duyshart said he was hopeful that many restaurants would not fail.
“The COVID health challenge has been extremely hard on retailers and restaurants,” he said. “Although I have heard people share that 30 percent closure speculation before, I want to stay hopeful that customers in Pasadena will increase support for local restaurants, so we can avoid such a dramatic closure percentage.
“Although small in number, we do have some new restaurants and food-service businesses looking to open,” Duyshart added. “We are hopeful this indicates some good news will be mixed in with the negative reports that have come out recently.
But some local restaurateurs were not as optimistic.
El Cholo restaurant owner Blair Salisbury said he also suspected Pasadena could end up losing more than 30 percent of its restaurants. He had been hoping Gov. Gavin Newsom would provide some relief.
“By looking at the graph, I don’t see us opening a dining room until December, maybe January 1st. And that, to me, is absolutely insane,” he said. “I think it’s probably conservative saying 30 percent.
“We’re doing everything we’re supposed to do as a restaurant and I was just very disappointed the governor didn’t didn’t step it up,” Salisbury said.
Many local businesses were already feeling pressure from the city’s recently-increased minimum wage, he said.
“So COVID means the last nail in the coffin,” according to Salisbury. “Once that [Paycheck Protection Program] money goes away, it’s going to be a grim reality.”
The longer the restrictions remain in place, the more pronounced the effects will be, he said.
He added that the restrictions seem unreasonable. “It’s handcuffed us.”
“At one point I had four people in my dining room,” Salisbury said. “I could have sat them 30 feet apart from each other inside of the dining room, [but] I couldn’t, and two of them walked out.
“I turned down a party of 25, a wedding reception, in October,” he said. “Because of COVID, they could’ve done only family members that sit together… and I had to turn them away.”
The CRA issued a statement last week calling on Newsom to do more to stem the economic bleeding. The organization also sent a letter urging him to do so.
“[Friday’s] announcement from Gov. Gavin Newsom means that most California restaurants must continue to keep their dining rooms closed, while others have a glimpse of what the pathway looks like for them to begin operating with strict limits on their capacity,” the statement said. “Because these continued mandates come without the benefit of a meaningful aid package to keep these businesses afloat, many more will simply close.”
CRA CEO Jot Condie said the situation has become dire for countless California restaurateurs.
“Restaurants cannot sustain themselves or their employees when they operate with strict capacity limits, which means the state should long ago have crafted a comprehensive aid package to help these small businesses hibernate,” Condie said. “This is what we had repeatedly urged the Newsom administration to do — make state help available to restaurants so that, once the pandemic is behind us, the families who own these businesses could go back, open the doors and turn the lights on again. Instead, they are closing for good, by the thousands.
“This could have been prevented with a few simple policy changes that would give restaurants rent relief and allow them to work with their insurers to cover some of their massive revenue losses,” Condie said. “Yet, these ideas and others have been dismissed or ignored by a state Legislature that is now about to adjourn.
“I think the numbers are very conservative because I think it’s going to be worse than they’re predicting,” said Canter’s Deli owner Marc Canter of the CRA’s 30 percent closure estimate.
“Even after this pandemic is over, everyone’s still going to be scrambling,” he said. “The restaurants aren’t going to be at the capacity they were.”
Even if a vaccine is developed by next year, “to get it back to where it was, it could take four or five years, Canter said.
About 1.4 million Californians worked in restaurants prior to the pandemic, the CRA statement said. But since March, between 900,000 and 1 million of them have been laid off or furloughed.
Due to the inaction of legislators, Condie said, “Californians will soon look around our communities and see too many dark, empty storefronts, and it could have been prevented. This underscores the importance of the CRA’s call earlier this week for the governor and the state Legislature to hold a special session to specifically address the statewide restaurant crisis.”