By ELAINE ALFARO | La Mesa Courier
On Dec. 3 a statewide stay at home order was announced by Gov. Newsom. It went into effect Dec. 6. These restrictions have drastically impacted restaurant owners due to the closing of outdoor dining.
On Jan. 20, San Diego County District 2 Supervisor Joel Anderson met with La Mesa restaurant and business owners in response to the Dec. 6 stay at home order that has impacted businesses state-wide. They advocated for restricted COVID-19 enforcement actions until scientific data proves their businesses’ activities pose a health risk. Anderson said this was to encourage the distinction between “political science, or medical science.”
Mary England, president and CEO of the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, attended the meeting and said, “It’s easy to look at a newspaper or look at the statistics, but until you actually hold hands and personally know a businessperson who has been affected by the restrictions… that’s when it really hits home.”
To give La Mesa citizens a better understanding of the “hit home effect” England spoke of, three restaurant owners vocalized the reality of the situation due to the second round of restrictions from the stay at home order.
Gy Kirk, owner of Sheldon’s Service Station, spoke about his business hardships.
“My experiences through the last year have impacted my business with loss of revenue on a daily basis,” he said. “We haven’t changed the [business] model from the initial hit. We have a strong positive following that keeps our hopes alive. Our time is spent on staying viable, while still being consistent to standards.”
The common thread among restaurant owners is this daily conflict to just maintain their services without sacrificing the dining experience. However, the dining experience has indeed changed with the stay at home order. Outdoor seating was shut down.
“Trying to figure out ways of doing takeout even without the patio, cut down a lot of business, not only for us, but a lot of other people in the industry,” said Aaron Henderson, owner of Public Square Coffee House, in a social media Instagram update. “Right now unless you’re doing drive through, unless you’re doing delivery, you’re having a really hard time.”
Public Square Coffee House temporarily closed for some of these reasons.
Brenda Leek, general manager of Curbside Eatery and Brewery, shared the same frustrations.
“We do everything right and yet we are falling in this catastrophic tier of closure,” she said. “I asked the city, I have asked the county, ‘Come out to look at my property.’ The entire Curbside restaurant is made to be COVID-19 friendly. I am still condemned, threatened with fines. The fines they are talking about are substantial and we can’t afford it. We can’t afford it.”
As far as the future for these businesses and the solutions to the problems business and restaurant owners shared, Kirk offered some suggestions.
“The city has been supportive and can only do so much since their model has also been impacted by pandemia. I believe the City Council is putting forth efforts to lock in rates for third party delivery services. That is very helpful,” he said and added that there is a need to lock rates. “Delivery is a tough thing. If we’re working with some of these bigger companies like Uber Eats and Yelp, they take up to 30% of a cut from the bill, which, as you can imagine, makes it nearly not profitable at all.”
Bottom line, according to Kirk, is that the rules have become too complex for small businesses to weather.
“The solutions to facilitate business and growth for small businesses is a Ph.D. dissertation,” he said. “I can say, having been in hospitality for over 30 years, success is hard, hard, work on a daily basis. The most Mount Everest of challenges has been communication of information to the public. There is no proverbial playbook for the pandemic.”
Leek advocated for keeping some of the relaxed rules on outdoor tables even after the pandemic crisis in passed.
“If there’s anything I want to come of this, it is to be able to have permanent sidewalk seating,” she said. “Let everyone see we’re responsible as businesses. La Mesa is a great little community. I am fortunate that my business is here.”
La Mesa Village Association chair Teri Favro also noted the difficulty restaurants in the Village have been going through.
“It’s been a difficult year for our restaurants, cafes and bars in Downtown La Mesa with the constant changes in COVID guidelines ranging from in person/outdoor dining to takeout/delivery only,” she stated in an email. “While some venues are not able to remain open, we commend the efforts of those who are able to provide dining to our La Mesa Village community while keeping safety a top pri-ority in order to stay viable. We can only hope that all of our restaurants will be able to reopen once it is deemed possible to do so.”
Just five days after the meeting with District Two Supervisor Anderson, the state-wide stay at home order and it’s restrictions were lifted on Jan. 25.
Despite the return to outdoor dining opetions for area restaurants, Leek remained skeptical of how long it might last.
“We’re hours off of another reopening. While I am excited, I am also reluctant to get too excited and to jump the gun. We’ve been on this road so many times,” she said. “What people might not realize, especially our elected government officials, is what it takes for a restaurant to open and close. Restaurants have seven agencies that we have to stay in compliance with and everything changes at the beginning of the year. I don’t just open a restaurant. I mean I am excited, but it’s an insult to the industry. You think it’s that easy to open up? There are so many rules and restraints for us to follow.”
When asked how La Mesa citizens can do their part in helping local businesses upon reopening, Leek said, “The general public has already been overwhelmingly supportive. For Curbside or other restaurants, just be patient. We’re all starting over again. Give us a minute. It’s not just my staff but overall everyone. There are a lot of components in service. Everything is brand new.”
— Editorial intern Elaine Alfaro is a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.