‘Oh Happy Day!’ – Daily News

on Mar12
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For Los Angeles County restaurant owners who have struggled for a year as health guidelines bounced them from full closures to limited outdoor dining only, the news that they could reopen indoor dining as soon as Monday — providing coronavirus metrics turn out as expected — set off celebrations.

“Oh Happy Day!” said Donna Duperron, president and CEO of the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce.

County public health officials confirmed Thursday, March 11, that they will permit restaurants to again welcome customers into their dining rooms at limited capacity when the county moves into the “red” tier of the state’s four-level economic reopening blueprint.

“It’s going to be a day that will be so welcomed by restaurant owners, by staff,” Duperron said. “They’ve had to do so much pivoting — open again, closed again, inside, outside.”

Dupperon said the reopening is likely to be gradual, as people get used to the idea of venturing out again — and are vaccinated. “It’s going to take a while for some people to have a comfort level.”

Brian Kelleher, owner of Hook & Plow, which has locations in Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach, was trying to get ahead of things this week. He’s already hired new staff that started training on Thursday. He also bought new furniture for indoor dining at the Redondo Beach location — to replace furniture he’d moved outdoors.

“I’m trying to be a little proactive … once they do announce it, they don’t usually give us much heads up,” Kelleher said.

At 25% capacity indoors, he said they will be able to open four or five tables at its larger Redondo Beach location and two or three in Hermosa Beach.

“We’re happy to be able to provide jobs to these new hires … they’re excited to get back to work,” Kelleher said.

The official news from Los Angeles County came late in the day Thursday and followed an earlier announcement by Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia confirming that his city, which has its own health department separate from Los Angeles County’s, would reopen indoor dining.

Pasadena, which also has its own health department, said it would align with the county guidelines.

Indoor dining will be limited to 25% and will require 8 feet between tables; one household per table (limited to 6 people); and a good HVAC system to ensure maximum ventilation.

Restaurant employees interacting with customers indoors will have to wear additional mask protection such as N95 or KN95, double masks and a face shield.

While 25% of indoor dining is a small number of seats, relatively speaking, every bit helps at this point, Pasadena restaurateur Gregg Smith said.

“We’re thrilled that this is happening now, but it’s been a year of struggle for everyone. It hasn’t been pretty for a lot of our independent restaurateurs,” Smith said, adding that he knows a number of eateries that have shuttered permanently in the city. “We feel very sad about that because we’re a tight knit group.”

Reopening indoor dining, said Elise Swanson, president and CEO of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, is a critical step in helping businesses survive.

“I’m also concerned about our salons and other small businesses,” Swanson said. “I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing but I want to make sure we reopen safely.”

In Northridge, Lorena Sanchez couldn’t wait to welcome customers back into her Bob’s Big Boy diner.

For several months, she’s been falling behind on rent. Her sales have plummeted since the pandemic started. She’s been working without getting a paycheck for months while working with her two sons and one of her son’s finance, trying to save money on labor.

Shutting down indoor dining twice since the beginning of the pandemic was a blow to her business, she said. Last year, officials allowed using sidewalks and parking lots to set up tables outdoor, Sanchez added, but that was hardly enough to reverse the economic damage that has been done.

Resuming indoor dining, Sanchez hoped, would bring a much-needed boost in revenue.

“If sales are going to increase so we can pay for rent and other expenses,” she said. “I’m not even thinking about making money.”

Before the pandemic started, Sanchez was able to make about $150,000 a month in sales. But in the last few months, she’s been making only $40,000. When indoor dining was allowed to resume last year at 25% capacity, she said, her sales went up to $70,000 a month.

Even opening indoor dining at 25% capacity would help, she added.

“It’s not going to be enough but anything will help,” she said.

Frank Medina, president of the Whittier Uptown Association ,predicted that 40% of diners will be OK with indoor dining right away, but that 60% would prefer to continue eating outside.

I think the majority will want to dine in, but it will take a little time,” said Sandra Hahn of Whittier’s Crepes and Grapes.

“People still don’t have confidence in eating indoors, Hahn said. “Once the vaccine starts to come in, confidence will come.”

Steve Hernandez, owner of Steve’s BBQ in Whittier, is more assured.

“I think there will be some people who will welcome being inside where it’s nice and warm,” Hernandez said.

Another issue for some restaurants will be having enough chairs and tables.

Hahn said she probably won’t be able to have indoor dining this weekend because all of her tables and chairs now are outside.

Hernandez said he has some leftover tables and chairs and with the social-distancing rules, should be OK. But he will need to hire a waitress, he said.

Thomas Compagnon, who with his wife, Loni, owns COMPAGNON Wine Bistro in downtown San Pedro, had only been open for a year when the pandemic struck.

“It forces you to be a bit more creative,” Compagnon said.

Thanks to social media, they were able to sort selling bottles of wine and specialty foods to go, including baguettes and cheese bowls.

Many people, he said, will likely continue to prefer dining outside, in keeping with the French bistro business model they’ve set up.

Jennifer Febre, the owner of MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. in Van Nuys, said because she has a large outdoor sitting area, the new rules are not going to have a big impact on her business.

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