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Video Showing LA Sheriff’s Deputies Holding Teens At Gunpoint Goes Viral

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(Tammi Collins Instagram post)

A video of L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies holding three teenagers at gunpoint in Santa Clarita has gone viral. It’s leading to questions — and outrage — about the officers’ tactics.

Tammi Collins posted a video of the incident on Instagram. In the post she wrote that her teenage son and two of his friends were attacked at a bus stop by a man with a knife.

View this post on Instagram

I wanted to share what happened to my son yesterday in SCV when he was with a couple of friends sitting at a bus stop headed home. He was attacked by a gentleman (homeless guy) who approached them and first asked them if they had any crack then tried to take their things. The guy became so aggressive that he took his shirt off pulled out a knife and whip them tried to stabbed them. His friends only had their skate boards to cover them from the knife and whip so they held it out to keep distance from this guy. Several bystanders including the restaurant manager of Buffalo Wild wings called the police to get help for the boys but “One” caller called the police and reported two black guys are attacking a homeless guy. This is how the police responded. This is something my son and his friends will never forget. I’m still wonder how will I ever help my son recover from this traumatic experience. Please pray for my family. Please Share to protect our kids!!!

A post shared by Tammi Collins (@tammilaray) on

She said they used their skateboards as shields.

Bystanders called 911 and several Sheriff’s deputies arrived. But in the video, they can be seen pointing their weapons at the teenagers, two of whom are Black. One deputy takes aim with what appears to be an AR-15 automatic rifle.

As onlookers protest that the real attacker had fled, the deputies handcuff the three teens and detain them.

One of the deputies says in the video that they were responding to a call that someone had been assaulted with a skateboard.

Robert Brown, a lawyer representing the teens’ families, said they were released after about a half hour. He said it was disturbing that the deputies appear to have responded with weapons drawn before sussing out the situation.

“I have concerns regarding the tactics employed,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a video addressing the incident. “The matter is currently being investigated,” he added.

In another video posted on Twitter this afternoon, Sheriff's Chief Dennis Kneer said that in the wake of the incident, Villanueva "has directed a thorough review of our policy as it pertains to the deployment of the AR-15 rifle, as seen in the video." After the review, the department will "take appropriate action as necessary," he said.

Brown says no decision has been made yet whether to file a lawsuit.

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Census Takers Start Knocking On Doors In LA This Week

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An AltaMed patient receives help filling out her census form on July 10. Census workers are now going door-to-door to reach the 4-in-10 L.A. households that haven't responded. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau has begun deploying census enumerators in neighborhoods across Southern California. This in-person phase, essential for counting hard-to-reach populations that can include renters and immigrants, was delayed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But these census workers won't have much time to complete the task of visiting 40 percent of L.A. County's homes where residents have yet to respond to the decennial count.

The Trump administration recently announced it would move up the completion date by a month, from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30. This gives census workers just 50 days to contact and count Angelenos who have not yet submitted a census form, and it has census advocates worried about an undercount.

A Census Bureau spokesperson said canvassers will be focusing on neighborhoods with low response rates, such as South L.A. and Southeast L.A., along with downtown and the Westside.

For those who are not excited about a census taker showing up at the door, there's still time to complete a census form on the internet, over the phone or send it in by mail.

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Teacher-Powered Free Bookmobile Cruises South LA

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Claudia Cataldo stands among the books she's giving out to community members in South L.A. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

After the pandemic shuttered school campuses and libraries, Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Claudia Cataldo realized her 12th grade students were having a hard time getting new books.

So she revived a low-tech, old-school concept: the bookmobile.

She started delivering books to students from Santee Education Complex from her personal collection. Cataldo told us:

“I want them to feel like books can be a treasured possession and one of the best ways to escape from the negativity that's around us, especially right now. The books are theirs to keep. I don't want them back.”

Most libraries are still closed and the few that offer curbside pickup aren’t ideal for families without reliable transportation or access to the Internet to place books on hold in the first place. So Cataldo put out a call for donations and now her bookmobile -- a gray Honda Accord -- is practically filled to the windows with hundreds of books for people of all ages.

This Thursday is her last stop at the Central Avenue Farmers Market before school starts. She’ll be at the Crenshaw Farmers Market on Saturdays and will travel to just about anyplace books are needed.

If you’d like to donate books or request a visit from the bookmobile, find Cataldo on Instagram.

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California’s Statewide Eviction Protections Could End September 1

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An eviction notice and paperwork. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

California’s eviction protections — a statewide pause on nearly all eviction cases — could end as soon as Sept. 1, according to the Judicial Council, which oversees courts in the state.

The Judicial Council will vote on the changes this week.

The emergency rule was adopted in April, preventing summonses from being issued in nearly all “unlawful detainer” eviction cases, unless public health and safety were at stake. That was a stronger protection than the actions taken by many local governments, which require tenants to prove their income has been affected by COVID-19.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye earlier indicated that the rule could lift as soon as this Friday, Aug. 14, sparking fears of an imminent wave of evictions. Statehouse leaders last week asked the Judicial Council for additional time to pass legislation to protect tenants and support landlords.

Up to 5.4 million Californians could be at risk of eviction, according to a report issued last week.

In announcing the vote today, Cantil-Sakauye argued that it was not the judicial branch’s job to find a fix, imploring legislators to act:

“They have had since March 2020 to explore remedies that will provide fairness to all parties while recognizing the limitations the pandemic has placed on our residents and our institutions.”

Renter advocates were cheered. “This is great news,” Brian Augusta of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation said. “We are relieved that the Judicial Council has given renters a reprieve. Now we need the Legislature and Governor to act to truly protect tenants.”

Landlords say they are struggling as many tenants don’t pay rent and are likely to decry any delay.

“Rental property owners ... are already struggling, particularly this year without being able to collect rent under these various eviction moratoria,” Daniel Yueklson of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles told LAist week.

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Want To Start A Charter School In LAUSD? New (Tougher) Ground Rules Now Apply

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A group of around 50 teachers and parents from El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills held a protest on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. (Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

Los Angeles Unified School Board members this afternoon narrowly voted to approve a policy that has alarmed charter school advocates.

The new policy outlines how LAUSD officials will weigh requests to start new charter schools or renew existing charter schools, which currently serve more than 118,000 students.

LAUSD is adapting its guidelines to account for sweeping changes to California’s charter law, which granted districts statewide more powers to block new charters from opening. But the changes to state law — part of Assembly Bill 1505 — also mean that existing schools with strong academic track records should have an easier time staying open.

The California Charter Schools Association argues LAUSD’s new policy oversteps its new powers, and could effectively “ban new charter schools and close existing quality schools.” But LAUSD leaders say the charter association’s concerns actually stem from AB 1505 itself, not district overreach.

HOW THEY VOTED

On Tuesday, board members held several, separate votes on each section of the 120-page policy. Board members voted 4-3 to approve the section on new charter applications, with Mónica García, Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin — all endorsed by the charter association — voting no.

But on the section covering charter renewals for existing schools, only Jackie Goldberg voted no. The board also adopted an amendment that would apply LAUSD-generated growth data to the district’s decisions on renewals.

L.A. Unified School Board members meet via Zoom on Aug. 11, 2020. (Screenshot/LAUSD)

WHY THIS MATTERS

Assembly Bill 1505 was crafted in the spirit of high-minded compromise — meant to help charter advocates and critics resolve their differences and join forces to advocate for mutual interests.

But L.A. Unified is home to more charters — publicly-funded schools run by nonprofits, operating under district oversight but outside school district control — than any other school system in the nation. Whether or not Assembly Bill 1505 can live up to its goal of turning down the temperature of charter school politics will largely depend on how LAUSD implements the new law.

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Next Move: What Happens To Board Game Cafes In The COVID Era?

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Patrons at Game Haus, a board game cafe in Glendale, in the pre-COVID-19 era. (Marcus Anthony Photography)

Saturday afternoons are typically a busy time at Game Haus, Glendale's premier board game cafe, but on this day in early March the crowd was light. The cafe only had one table of customers and they had all arrived in masks. Although Southern California officials hadn't yet issued a proclamation on The Virus, the cafe's owners, Terry Chiu and Robert Cron, realized they would have to shut down. They had been waiting for the government to drop the hammer, but they decided it was time. Later that day, Saturday, March 14, Game Haus closed its doors, and that's how they've remained.

When L.A. County officials announced on May 29 that restaurants and cafes could reopen for dine-in service, Chiu and Cron faced a new wrinkle. The long list of health department guidelines explicitly prohibited board games, the heart and soul of their business. "They wrote those guidelines thinking Cheesecake Factory and not Game Haus," Cron says.

Plenty has been said about eating and drinking in public, but there's a lot less information out there about the swapping of cards and moving of pieces, the rolling of dice and positioning of miniatures in a table-top gaming room.

Patrons at Game Haus, a board game cafe in Glendale, in the pre-COVID-19 era. (Marcus Anthony Photography)

So Chiu and Cron have been working with local officials, trying to flesh out a potential plan that would allow them to reopen -- shorter time limits for guests, a reservation system to avoid overcrowding, constant cleaning and sanitizing, extra PPE -- but they've had a hard time getting a response. They submitted their proposal to the Los Angeles County Health Department on June 12 but never received feedback, and they've had trouble even getting the right person on the phone. That, they say, is the most frustrating aspect of the situation.

"No one wants to take responsibility," Cron says.

The two Game Haus owners have been bounced from agency to agency, getting input from all of them but answers from no one, hearing vaguely encouraging words from the state health department and city councilmembers but no actionable verdicts. When they do get some info, it often ends up conflicting with what they've heard elsewhere. For Cron, it's a confusing and heartbreaking position to be in, "like the kid in the divorce, where mom says one thing and dad says another."

Patrons at Game Haus, a board game cafe in Glendale. (Marcus Anthony Photography)

They know Game Haus is an odd duck -- few businesses serve food and rely on interactive gameplay -- but they feel more like an ugly duckling.

Chiu and Cron have considered other options, such as serving food for takeout or selling retail games, but decided they weren't viable. The best they could do with takeout, they figured, was break even, and the prospects for retail are worse. They'd need a pile of cash to acquire games and the space to store them. Even then, they didn't think they could compete with Amazon.

"If you can wait two days to get it on Prime and have it 30% off, no brick and mortar can beat that," Cron says. But that doesn't mean board game cafes can't try.

Geeky Teas owners Donna Ricci and Erik Eikmeier. (Courtesy of Geeky Teas)

Geeky Teas in Burbank, in addition to offering in-house gaming, has always sold board games alongside imported British snacks and fandom and fantasy-focused loose leaf teas. Over the last few months, they've ramped up retail sales and local delivery, with a few twists Jeff Bezos' goliath would never dare replicate. Customers might receive a delivery from Marvel's Hela, Disney's Kim Possible, or Community's Greendale Human Being (among others) -- or at least a reasonable facsimile of those characters. Geeky Teas owners Donna Ricci and Erik Eikmeier are putting their cosplay habit to good use for pickups and deliveries.

Their on-site game room, tea service and cat rescue center will remain closed for the foreseeable future, but they're still trucking, smack dab at the center of their Venn diagram of geekdom.

A sampling of the offerings at Guildhall, a board game-centric establishment in Burbank. (Bethany Deck)

About five minutes northwest on Victory Boulevard in Burbank, the games and esports-focused pub Guildhall has chosen another path to survival - takeout food and drinks. In the old world, its two locations (the other is in Whittier) were nerd-friendly bars and restaurants, with esports on screen and a library of tabletop games. Because Guildhall was, first and foremost, a pub, it was in a better position to transition to takeout, but it took some serious doing. Margins are lower, people order fewer drinks and they've lost the atmosphere they worked so hard to cultivate.

The change has been difficult, financially and psychologically, for owner Spencer Cox, who says he has been riding a rollercoaster of emotions from shock to confidence to locking himself in his office with his head in his hands. He even wondered if he should return to school. Ultimately, he loves Guildhall, his staff and his regulars too much to do anything but tweak his business model, adapt to changing health protocols and try to survive on takeout.

When restaurants and bars were briefly allowed to reopen for dine-in service at the end of May, he spent 10 days figuring out the safest way to bring guests back and transforming Guildhall's space with sanitizing stations and appropriately distanced tables.

"I employ a lot of nerds, and I'm a nerd," Cox says. He had plenty of people who had been closely tracking data and best-practice reports from multiple sources, which bolstered his confidence. "I feel like my staff sometimes is better equipped to find all this information than some government officials."

Like Chiu and Cron, for whom he expressed great admiration -- he was a regular at Game Haus and sought their input before opening Guildhall -- Cox has been frustrated with the mixed messaging and lack of advance notice from L.A. County's health department. The sudden plunges and twists of the COVID-19 carnival ride have a way of inducing whiplash.

"I've been on the edge of my seat every morning, wondering if there's a new thing they're gonna tell me to do," Cox says. Guildhall bent over backwards to switch to takeout, then back to dine-in, then back to takeout all over again when Governor Gavin Newsom announced that bars would, once again, have to close. Each shift was devastating in its own way.

Two of the cocktails available at Guildhall in Burbank. (Bethany Deck)

Cox has returned to the takeout model, rearranging shifts and changing his ordering patterns, taking one more spin on the old tilt-a-whirl, hoping he doesn't lose his lunch.

For a while, no settlers will tame the island of Catan, no amateur investigator will discover who killed who in what room with which weapon, no Battleships will sink, no alien species will force a Cosmic Encounter. Like many small businesses, local board game cafes will do their best to stay afloat however they can, surviving on takeout dinners and loose-leaf tea, holding on as hard as possible with fingers crossed for the coronavirus pandemic to wind down. When it does, they'll be ready to welcome us back in for a beer, pizza and another race to Terraform Mars.

Patrons at Game Haus, a board game cafe in Glendale, in the pre-COVID-19 era. (Marcus Anthony Photography)

As Chiu of Game Haus says, "In the short time that they've been around, [board game cafes] have come to represent communal activity and gathering and having contact with your friends. All of those things, in a very short time, have become taboo, things you shouldn't do. So when it does come back, the hope is that board game cafes will also symbolize an age of recovery, a way for us to say that we've gotten over this."

Hopefully, his business will still be around to enjoy it.


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For Restaurants Trying To Ditch Delivery Apps, The Struggle Is Real

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Christy Vega photographed at her Sherman Oaks restaurant, Casa Vega, in July 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

For more than 60 years, Casa Vega, an old school Mexican restaurant in Sherman Oaks, had never bothered with delivery. It didn't need to. "We were always very busy," says owner Christy Vega, whose grandparents started the business when they immigrated to Los Angeles from Tijuana in the late 1930s.

Before coronavirus, fans came to Vega's restaurant as much for the atmosphere as for the food, lingering over margaritas in the red, leather booths. In mid-March, when L.A. County ordered all restaurants to close their dining rooms, Vega realized the lack of delivery options was going to be a major problem. She and her team were, she admits, "completely unprepared" to reinvent the wheel.

In late April, after Casa Vega had been closed for more than a month, she reluctantly started contacting delivery apps. Although she had never cared for their business model -- apps commonly take between 15% and 30% commission on every order -- these were desperate times.

Christy Vega photographed at her Sherman Oaks restaurant, Casa Vega, in July 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

For better or worse, the apps were so overloaded with sign-up requests they didn't have the necessary hardware (specifically, the ordering tablets) to add Casa Vega to their rosters. The restaurant had to figure out its own system. Vega now sees that moment as a blessing in disguise.

Casa Vega reopened for drive-through pickup on May 2, just in time for Cinco de Mayo.

"We opened with a great demand, more than we ever anticipated. We were completely overwhelmed with orders, much more than we could possibly handle. I looked at everybody that night and said, 'Thank God we didn't do those delivery apps.' It kind of saved us," Vega says.

Casa Vega is one of a growing number of restaurants that have chosen to ditch delivery apps because of high commission rates, safety concerns or both. Although restaurants had complained about delivery apps long before coronavirus, the pandemic has intensified their issues, especially in L.A. County, where 80% of restaurant jobs vanished almost overnight due to COVID-19.

Vega compares food delivery apps to piranhas, cannibalizing the industry they are supposed to serve. "It's not right," she says. "They take too much money. The fees are ridiculous."

Customers have multiple options among food delivery apps. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

HOW MUCH MONEY DO DELIVERY APPS REALLY TAKE?

We contacted each of the "Big Four" food delivery apps for this story: Postmates, Grubhub, UberEats and Doordash (which owns Caviar). Combined, these apps control 95% of the food delivery app marketplace, according to an analysis from Second Measure.

During this process, one thing became clear: Some of these companies aren't transparent with the public about the commissions and fees they charge restaurants -- and they don't have to be.

To be fair, there isn't one standard commission rate for delivery apps, even within the same company, which is part of the reason the situation is so confusing. Every restaurant in the United States negotiates its own contract with whatever app or apps they choose to use. If restaurants decide to use multiple services, apps often charge them higher commissions but if they sign an exclusive agreement with one app, rates will typically go down. Postmates for example, is the only app that offers delivery from L.A. hot spots Moon Juice and Howlin' Rays, whose ordering pages feature an #onlyonpostmates hashtag.

This illustration photo shows the logo of delivery app Postmates on a smartphone screen. (CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Those contracts often include non-disclosure sections that prohibit restaurants from publicly disclosing the apps' commission rates, making an already opaque process even less transparent.

We reached out to the top delivery apps to ask how much they take from each order. Here's what their spokespeople told us:

  • UberEats: A company rep said commissions vary based on the package a restaurant chooses. For restaurants that use the app only for ordering, meaning they have their own drivers and/or vehicles, the commission rates are about 15% on average. To use the UberEats platform and the UberEats delivery fleet, commissions range from 15% to 30%, according to the company. In an email to Vega, which she shared with LAist, UberEats said their standard commission rate is 30%. (In July 2020, UberEats acquired Postmates in a $2.65 billion deal. Both apps remain active.)
  • Doordash/Caviar: In August 2019, Doordash acquired high-end delivery app Caviar for $410 million in cash. Since they're a private company, a spokesperson from Doordash declined to tell us their average commission fee or give us an average range of fees, saying the rates are confidential and vary by restaurant.
  • Grubhub: A spokesperson from Grubhub said their platform is "free," but if restaurants want the company to provide delivery drivers, it will cost them 10% of the total order. If restaurants want to use the app for "marketing" purposes, meaning their menus appear or are featured on the app when users in the area search for available delivery and pick-up options, that costs them another 15%. Two restaurateurs told LAist that forgoing the marketing fee isn't realistic. They say that if you do, it's unlikely users will be able to find your restaurant, let alone order from it. That would mean using Grubhub, on average, costs restaurants approximately 25% commission on each order.
  • Postmates: When we asked, "What is your average commission fee?," a Postmates spokesperson said they took issue with the word "fee." "Commissions are not 'fees,'" the representative wrote via email, "they are the main source of revenue for our company and they are how we pay for the services that we provide to businesses and our customers." The spokesperson said that the commission rates are decided privately with each restaurant and that "arbitrarily setting on-demand delivery prices has real consequences that undermine our ability to operate... and kills the whole industry's ability to provide the services restaurants need to stay open." They did not provide any numbers. (As of June 2020, Postmates is the most used food ordering app in LA, trailed closely by DoorDash, according to the Second Measure analysis).

When the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to stop dine-in service, delivery apps released statements of concern and support for local businesses. But most of them did not significantly lower their commissions or fees.

A Caviar delivery person works during the coronavirus pandemic on April 18, 2020 in New York City. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

DoorDash and Caviar made some temporary changes to relieve local restaurants during the shutdown. On April 10, both apps offered half-off their commissions through the end of May, and zero commission fees for new restaurants during their first 30 days with the service. Those relief programs ended on May 31, a DoorDash spokesperson told us.

In July, DoorDash and Caviar launched "Main Street Strong," an initiative that allows restaurants to set up a digital "storefront" on their own website, so they can sell directly to customers without a commission. That service is being rolled out slowly and there's already a waitlist to sign-up. The DoorDash spokesperson said although the program does not have traditional commission fees, it does have set-up, subscription and delivery fees. She declined to share those figures with us.

UberEats told LAist that at the start of the pandemic, they announced they would waive all commissions on pick-up orders made through the end of 2020 via the app. (Yes, most delivery apps also take commissions for pick-up orders.) The company also says that between March 15 and the end of April, they waived "eater-facing" delivery fees at "independent restaurants." It was a good deal for consumers, temporarily reducing their delivery charges, but it didn't reduce the cut that restaurants paid to UberEats.

A Grubhub sticker in the window of Roxanne Cafe in San Francisco, August 2019. (Haydn Blackey/Flickr Creative Commons)

Grubhub, for its part, offered consumers a $10 off promo around the time stay-at-home orders were first issued. Restaurants who opted into the "Supper for Support" promotion received a $10 credit for the first 25 orders. After that, they could decide if they wanted to continue running the promotion at their own expense while still paying commission on the full, pre-discount cost of the order.

Joseph Badaro, who owns Hummus Labs in Pasadena, told LAist that the company repeatedly asked him to sign up for the promotion: "They're like, 'We're here to help you,' but it doesn't do anything to help the restaurant -- other than sell food that eventually will lose 30% commission."

Meanwhile, food delivery apps were flooded with so many new restaurants itching to sign up, they couldn't keep up with the demand.

UberEats told LAist that since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., they've seen self-sign ups decuple (i.e. increase tenfold; we had to look that up). If you're wondering how much money that is, in 2019, UberEats made an estimated $337 million in adjusted net revenue. Now, multiply that by ten.

Diners enjoy food and drinks in Casa Vega's parking lot, which has been turned into a dining area. July 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

'WE WOULD LOSE MONEY ON EVERY DELIVERY'

Restaurants prepare and sell a physical product that can quickly spoil. Most of them, unless they're part of a chain, are small businesses operating on thin margins -- about 6%, according to one financial statement analysis.

Food delivery apps, by comparison, are larger, more centralized tech companies that benefit from economies of scale. When a bunch of their clients go out of business, so what? New restaurants will open to meet consumer demand. If delivery apps don't care about the survival of individual restaurants, it's because they don't have to.

During her negotiations with delivery apps, Vega says the lowest fee she received was from UberEats, which pitched her a commission of 22%.

"I was just shocked, ethically and morally, that they weren't lowering the rates for restaurants [during the pandemic], yet they had so much business they didn't even have the hardware to sign us up," Vega says. "We're not going to give 30% to companies that show no compassion for our industry at this time. It's just crazy. We're in a fight for our lives right now."

Customers place an order at Burgers Never Say Die in Silver Lake, February 2019. (Elina Shatkin/LAist)

Vega is far from the only restaurateur who's fed up with delivery apps. Burgers Never Say Die, in Silver Lake, recently started charging extra on every order placed via Caviar to make up for the commission taken by the app. If you order one of their regular cheeseburgers in the restaurant or by phone, it'll cost you $7.50 (before tax). Order it on Caviar, and it'll cost you $9.50.

"Why are our delivery app prices so much higher than our in store prices? Well, it's because we're being charged 21% on every order, which means we're barely making any money on delivery app orders," owner Shawn Nee wrote in an Instagram post.

The exterior of Burgers Never Say Die in Silver Lake. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

"Every time a delivery app service contacts us, I respond with the following: 'If you can give me [a] 10% [commission deal] on every order, we can continue this conversation,'" Nee told us. "We either never hear back from them, or we get some spiel about 'corporate' and how they won't let us go that low."

Burgers Never Say Die still offers delivery via Caviar but Nee told LAist that he encourages customers to place their orders directly by calling or walking up to the restaurant.

The exterior of Tito's Tacos in Culver city. August 2020. (Elina Shatkin/LAist)

Wirt Morton, co-owner of Tito's Tacos in Culver City, told LAist that his restaurant's profit margin, despite its cult following and 60-year track record, is about 3% to 4%. But the lowest commission the delivery app companies offered him was 17%.

"We would lose money on every delivery. It just didn't make sense," Morton says.

Instead, he and his wife, who co-owns the business, decided to start offering delivery, something they've never done during their six decades in business. They chose local courier service StreetSmart Messengers, which requires its delivery drivers to complete the National Restaurant Association's food safety program. They deliver all items in "tamper-proof" packaging, according to Morton, so "no one puts their grubby hands on the food."

A tray of hard-shell tacos from Tito's Tacos in Culver City. (tbiley/Flickr Creative Commons)

It doesn't come cheap. Customers who order delivery from Tito's Tacos have to pay a $10 fee for delivery within a 5-mile radius of the restaurant and there's an extra $2 to $3 per mile charge for customers who live farther away. Morton knows the steep figure means he'll lose some customers, but he says it's worth it to know his patrons won't catch COVID-19 from one of his delivery orders.

Tito's is lucky to have a legion of hardcore fans, many of whom are willing to pay extra for their favorite hard-shell gringo tacos. "When it was announced that we were going to start delivery, we had people in Texas, Colorado, Connecticut and even overseas saying, 'Can you deliver here?," Morton says. (Sadly, he can't.) Restaurateurs who lack that kind of name recognition aren't so lucky.

A Postmates sign is displayed next to other food delivery app signs in a San Francisco restaurant on July 6, 2020, the day Uber announced it was buying Postmates in a $2.65 billion all-stock deal. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

BETWEEN A ROCK AND HARD PLACE

May Matsuo-Rose, who grew up in Orange County, started Don Don Curry, a Japanese deli business, in 2016 in New York City. She started by selling Japanese comfort food such as curry, chicken katsu and egg sandwiches at farmers markets and pop-up events. When she moved to L.A., she rented space in a commercial kitchen near Exposition Park, planning to expand to food delivery and catering.

Of course, after COVID-19 hit, catering was out of the question. Delivery was the only way Matsuo-Rose could make a living, so she signed up with four of the apps. She offered to share details about commission rates with LAist. (Although Postmates and UberEats had confidentiality clauses in their contracts, since she has ended those contracts, she can speak freely.)

Here's what each app was charging her:

  • Postmates: 25%
  • UberEats: 30%
  • DoorDash: 30% (cut to 15% when the pandemic hit)
  • Grubhub: 33% (30% commission plus a 3% "processing fee")

At the end of May, Matsuo-Rose closed Don Don Curry. Relying solely on delivery apps to distribute food, she and her partner couldn't make enough money to pay the rent on their kitchen space and keep the business afloat.

May Matsuo-Rose, owner of Don Don Curry (Courtesy May Matsuo-Rose)

"It's been really difficult because they take so much commission. It's not a sustainable way to do business. You're losing money feeding people," Matsuo-Rose says.

For restaurants that have been open for years and built a dedicated client base, Matsuo-Rose says she could see their delivery business thriving, even with the apps' commission fees. But for a new business, she says it's nearly impossible.

When thousands of restaurants joined delivery platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition was so intense it was nearly impossible to find newbies like Don Don on these apps. If restaurant owners couldn't pay the extra marketing fees, like the ones Grubhub charges, Matsuo-Rose says their businesses got buried by a glut of more established restaurants.

Curry and assorted goods from Don Don (Courtesy May Matsuo-Rose)

"Our rep at the kitchen even encouraged us to order from ourselves on these apps so we could trick the algorithm to make it seem like our restaurant is busier and more popular than it is," Matsuo-Rose says.

At the same time, trying to make a go of it without delivery apps, especially as a new restaurant, means you might not be able to attract any customers at all.

"If you're a brand new business, you have to market yourself just to let people know you exist." The apps, she says, "are a necessary evil."

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Kevin Mok, who runs Mr. Obanyaki, a dessert shop in Monterey Park that sells milk tea, frozen yogurt and Tawainese wheel cakes, echoes those sentiments.

"Postmates charges us 30%. Grubhub charges us 27%. It's a huge amount but there's nothing we can really do about it because we need the service," Mok says, adding that he has no other choice because he can't afford to hire his own driver.

Mok says on a $10 dollar order, for example, he pays about $3 in commission, $1 in sales tax and at least $2 on ingredients. After paying his rent and labor costs, he says, "I'm probably making $2 or $2.50 on that order."

"Right now, I'm able to survive," Mok says, "but the future is pretty uncertain. I don't know how much longer I can last." In April, he started a GoFundMe to raise extra money to keep his business alive.

Matsuo-Rose says restaurant owners who lack the English language skills to negotiate a better contract or the technical wherewithal to optimize their presence on apps are at an even greater disadvantage.

"It's hard because a lot of small restaurant owners are immigrants," Matsuo-Rose says. "Some are older and don't have the tech savvy to partner with these apps successfully. I'm in several Facebook groups where they're just like, 'I can't even navigate this dashboard to set up the menu and then take the pictures.'"

The DoorDash food delivery app seen on February 27, 2020, the day the company began the process of going public with a U.S. stock offering. (ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

DELIVERY APP ALTERNATIVES: WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

On June 8, the L.A. City Council unanimously approved a motion temporarily capping third-party delivery app fees at 15% and limiting marketing fees to 5%. In the original motion, councilmember Mitch O'Farrell called these fees "exorbitant" and argued they made it harder for restaurants to survive during the ongoing "international emergency."

It wasn't an original idea. Several cities including San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Jersey City had already capped delivery app fees in an attempt to dull the pandemic's blow to their respective dining scenes.

L.A.'s ordinance, which is set to expire 90 days after in-person dining is allowed to resume (this time, hopefully for good), also requires food delivery apps to provide an itemized rundown of all costs to customers. That includes the price of the food, the delivery fee charged to the restaurant, any other commissions or fees associated with the delivery and the tip.

All of the major delivery apps insist they are abiding by L.A.'s ordinance but in early July, two local restaurant owners told Eater LA that some delivery apps were still charging them between 25% and 30% commission on orders. The owners said when they asked Grubhub, DoorDash and Postmates about the new law, the companies either sent them generic statements, confusing messages or nothing at all.

A spokesperson for councilmember O'Farrell said, via email, that the city is currently surveying restaurants to gauge whether or not the ordinance is being followed.

"It is my understanding that restaurants can file a written report justifying when the ordinance was violated on the delivery application," the spokesperson told LAist. "The delivery app has 15 days from the written notice to make the necessary changes."

If the app doesn't make those changes, "civil action may be taken." The spokesperson said the City Attorney's office is "working on a plan" for what that might look like.

A courier delivers food by bike for UberEats. (Robert Anasch/Unsplash)

Even with a cap on commissions and fees, some restaurant owners are still ditching third-party apps. Morton says the city council's efforts sound good, but a 15% to 20% commission is still way too high for him. At those rates, he believes Tito's Tacos wouldn't be able to stay in business.

Other businesses aren't waiting for politicians or local ordinances to save them. They're looking for alternatives to the well-known delivery apps.

At the onset of the pandemic, Tock, a restaurant reservation system serving several cities across the country, has recast itself as a take-out (and, in some cases, delivery) platform. The company has less name recognition than Grubhub or DoorDash but its platform, which includes a website and an app, has become the go-to option for many of L.A.'s upscale restaurants.

Tock's Director of Marketing, Kyle Welter, told LAist that Los Angeles is "by far and away" one of their largest growing markets. More than 100 local restaurants now use the platform. Many of them, especially the ones that used to book reservations weeks in advance, are now offering prix fixe dinners or special menu items only on Tock. Bestia has a six-course "Bestia at home" menu that changes every three days while Republique offers family-style dinners, Bar Henry makes five-person craft cocktails and n/naka creates elaborate, two-tier bento boxes, all for pick-up. Wolfgang Puck told the Los Angeles Times that Tock helped him make take-out at Chinois worth it.

A bento box from n/naka. During the coronavirus pandemic, the Michelin-starred restaurant in West Los Angeles began offering its food for takeout, something it had never done before. (Elina Shatkin/LAist)

The site isn't as easy to navigate as the Big Four apps, likely because it wasn't originally designed to be an online ordering system. But Tock has a major upside for restaurants -- its most basic plan charges restaurants a $199 monthly fee plus a 2% commission on prepaid reservations. If a restaurant doesn't want or need the reservation feature, the commission increases to 3%, with no subscription fee. For Tock's core clientele of high-end and midscale restaurants, where a dinner tab for two easily runs between $75 and $150 (without alcohol), this fee structure is likely a bargain compared to the steep per-order commissions most third-party apps charge.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Tock's founders is a restaurateur.

"We are passionate about helping restaurants, and as a restaurant owner, I know how it works," Tock CEO Nick Kokonas told LAist via email. He owns four restaurants and two bars in Chicago.

Kokonas told us that since March, Tock has added about 60 restaurants a day, in 28 countries, but it isn't the only option for food businesses.

Joseph Badaro, owner of Hummus Labs in Pasadena, went a different route. He had spent months planning the opening of his Mediterranean restaurant, but when the pandemic hit, his landlord wouldn't let him cancel his lease. So he figured he'd try to make it work, at least for a month, and opened on April 1.

Badaro signed up for Grubhub, which kept him afloat for a while but he realized he was making nearly 70% of his profit through the app -- and the app was taking 30% of it back. He started looking for options and decided to try ChowNow.

Assorted hummus and dips at Hummus Labs in Pasadena. (Courtesy of Hummus Labs)

"What they do is just put an order platform on your site, and the customer is the only one that pays a delivery fee," Badaro says.

Instead of paying a commission, restaurants pay ChowNow a set fee. Badaro says for him, it's $150 a month. Although he still uses Grubhub for pickup (at a 15% commission), he stopped using the app for delivery in July and hasn't looked back.

Hummus Labs owner Joseph Badaro on the day in late March 2020 when his Pasadena restaurant passed its health inspection. (Courtesy of Hummus Labs)

"It was just simple math. My sales have been increasing, like week over week. I've literally talked to every single restaurant in my building about signing up with them," Badaro says.

That flat fee is part of ChowNow's ethos. "We are anti-commission," CEO Christopher Webb told LAist via email, adding that since March, the company has added more than 8,000 new restaurants to its platform. "Every restaurant in the country wants to, and needs to, move off predatory marketplaces like Grubhub if they want to survive the pandemic," Webb says.

San Francisco-based coffee roasting company Sightglass is using Toast, a tablet-based, point-of-sale system, to process takeout orders.

Unlike many third-party apps, Toast is transparent about its prices. The company generally charges restaurants $50 to $100 per month to use its system for orders and sales, both online and in-person. Aside from that, restaurants pay no other fees to the company. The ordering system is usually embedded into the restaurant's website.

After opening on March 14, the day before L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a stay-at-home order, Sightglass's first sit-down restaurant, located near La Brea and Melrose, had to close ite dining room. (Andrea D'Agosto)

For Stanley Morris, director of operations for Sightglass, the decision to use Toast rather than any of the Big Four delivery apps was a no-brainer. "With delivery companies, unless you're doing a huge volume of orders, it's expensive. And I didn't see any consistent behaviors around sanitation and how they were handling everything," Morris says.

Sightglass had spent more than a year planning the debut of its first L.A. outpost, a 13,000-square-foot roasting plant with a 150-seat restaurant and a to-go coffee window near La Brea and Melrose. Opening day, on March 14, was a success. The next afternoon, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a stay-at-home order. The restaurant had to pivot; it became Sightglass Provisions, a boutique provider of high-end prepared foods, farmer's market produce and, of course, locally roasted coffee.

Sightglass Provisions has become a boutique provider of produce, high-end prepared foods and locally roasted coffee. (Krista Simmons)

When it did, Morris was able to quickly train his seven-person staff on Toast. Aside from that, all he had to do was create a menu for pick-ups and pre-orders and voila, the digital marketplace was born. Toast allows him to fill orders without paying steep commissions or using outside delivery drivers. For health and safety reasons, he prefers only Sightglass employees handle the restaurant's food. Everyone who enters the premises gets their temperature checked, all items are carefully sanitized and pick-ups are entirely contactless. It's all part of the carefully choreographed quality-control system Morris has implemented to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

But even with the speedy reorganization, Morris says Sightglass is probably making less than 20% of its projected profit. "We're just trying to get through this. In the meantime, we're going to be the best business we can be, under the circumstances. Everyone's making this up as they go along," he says.

Separated by a pane of plexiglass from their barista, a customer pays for their purchase at Sightglass Provisions. (Andrea D'Agosto)

RESTAURANTS ARE DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES

For food businesses that don't have the capacity to hire a delivery staff or create complicated ordering systems, solving the food delivery issue can be like a high school group project -- sometimes it's better to just do it yourself.

Sara Valdes runs Sara's Market, in City Terrace, with her husband, Steven. The shop is a neighborhood convenience store with a bit of a glow-up. Alongside the usual bags of M&Ms and bottles of Tabasco, you'll find Kernel of Truth organic tortillas, bottles of natural wine, craft beer and oat milk.

The exterior of Sara's Market in City Terrace. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

The store didn't start making deliveries until May, when Sara and Steven outfitted a truck and started bringing their goods directly to a set location two days a week.

"People have expressed to us that they are still a bit hesitant to come into the store, so we give them the option to pick up from the truck," Steven Valdes told us in August.

The Sara's Market truck isn't like a typical food truck. You don't order at the window and wait until your number is called. Instead, you place and pay for your order in advance via Toast. For Sara Valdes, the best part is that she doesn't have to pay any commissions or rely on third-party apps.

"It's always been a family-owned business, so whatever we do, we can do it ourselves," she says.

They charge a $5 delivery fee per order, a number they can keep low since they don't have to pay steep commissions. Valdes says they also use the truck to help generate revenue for other businesses in East L.A. Their pickups usually occur at local businesses such as George's Burger Stand on Cesar Chavez, where their patrons might be tempted to grab a pastrami burger or some chili cheese fries. Valdez wants to share the wealth with neighborhood restaurants that might not have the resources to deal with delivery apps or online ordering platforms.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Valdes says business was slow. Now, the shop is generating about the same revenue as it did pre-pandemic -- not something you hear often from people in the food industry.

"We are getting big support from the community, which we really, really appreciate," Valdes says. If you want to support your local restaurants, bars, convenience stores and markets but aren't sure how, she has a piece of advice: Call them and ask.

"Just straight ask them, 'What is the best way I can order that would benefit you the most?'" Valdes says. "I always tell everyone to shop local, support local, even if it's just a gallon of milk. That's still a sale for that person and that's still income coming in. I feel like everybody's in the same boat right now, struggling in one way or another. But I think as long as each community sticks together, we will all actually get through this."

Tortas from Evil Cooks at Sara's Market. (Cesar Hernandez for LAist)

As more restaurants close for good -- pour one out for Dong Il Jang, Broken Spanish, Baco Mercat, Jun Won, Swingers, Here's Looking At You, Trois Mec along with the countless small establishments that will never see their names mentioned in a media outlet -- and the timeline for a full reopening remains murky, many restaurant owners realize that if they want to survive, they'll have to reimagine their businesses for the long haul.

"We're not going back to what we thought the restaurant business was, maybe ever," says Morris, of Sightglass. "You can't make it on a few tables on the sidewalk or with just takeout. It's sad and it hurts and it's painful, but it's reality."

At Casa Vega, Christy Vega knows she won't be able to rely on the same business model she's used for more than half-a-century but she's not sure what comes next.

"The future of the restaurant industry is completely up in the air," Vega says. "Sadly, I think the landscape will look much different in 2021. That said, restaurateurs by nature have amazing heart and passion. Resilience in times of chaos is second nature for us. So I still have hope."


Correction: A previous version of this story inccurately described Tock as soley a a web platform instead of a web platform and an app and misstated the number of restaurants Nick Kokonas owns. It also did not explain that Grubhub's "Supper for Support" promotion was voluntary and that participating restaurants received a $250 credit, spread out over 25 orders, from Grubhub. LAist regrets the errors.


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A Grieving Son Asks Why His Mother's Nursing Home Didn't Test Earlier For Deadly Virus

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Published
Amilicar Jones holds a picture of his mother and him at his college graduation. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

More than 2,000 people have died in nursing homes in L.A. County from COVID-19. Despite the population clearly being in the high-risk group, many nursing homes didn’t begin testing until months into the pandemic.

Family members and advocates say by then, the virus was already raging, and that testing happened too late.

At the Beverly West nursing home in Los Angeles’s Little Ethiopia neighborhood, testing happened in late May. That was too late for Amilicar Jones’ 81-year-old mother. A week later, her results were back: she was positive. Hours later she was dead.

He told us:

"She was one of the most honest, caring people. I miss her. I miss her, you know, I miss her a lot."

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Morning Briefing: Dear God, Not An Earthquake

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Published
An onlooker views newly ruptured ground after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the Ridgecrest area on July 5, 2019. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Never miss a morning briefing. Subscribe today to get our A.M. newsletter delivered to your inbox.

I don’t know about you, but given everything that has already happened in #2020, the thought of a major earthquake striking Los Angeles sends absolute chills down my spine. And yet… and yet

Dozens of small quakes rocked the Salton Sea Monday morning, which is located just south of the San Andreas fault. Yes, that San Andreas fault, the one that, if it were to be triggered – by, say, dozens of small quakes – could result in The Big One.

The good news is that this has happened before in the same area, and it didn’t lead to catastrophe.

"There's quite a long history of these fairly short-lived swarm episodes that are reasonably close to the San Andreas, and none of those have led to anything," Zachary Ross, a seismologist at Caltech, told KPCC’s Jacob Margolis.

And, as we all know, 2020 is the year in which we can safely rely on events to play out just as they always do.

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and be careful out there.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, August 11

When L.A. County issued guidelines for restaurants to reopen, they specifically forbade certain activities — including board games. If you run a board game cafe, asks LAist contributor Ben Mesirow, how do you survive?

Claudia Cataldo is a 12th grade teacher at Santee Education Complex in South L.A. Since school shut down in mid-March, her students have been clamoring for books. So she began delivering directly to their homes, and that effort has grown into a free book distribution targeting readers of all ages. Mariana Dale will have the story.

L.A. County Sheriff's deputies were called on Aug. 7 by witnesses saying a homeless man was attacking people outside a Santa Clarita restaurant. The deputies showed up and trained their guns on three teens who had actually been the attack victims, then handcuffed and detained them. According to reports, two of the teens are Black. Robert Garrova is tracking the story.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

Money Matters: The L.A. City Council budget committee approved a plan to forgive six months of rent for Olvera Street businesses. A California judge has ordered Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees, arguing that the companies use "circular reasoning" by only treating their tech workers as such. President Trump's unemployment benefits plan would leave out some Californians, and the state doesn't have the money to kick in the 25% Trump is asking for.

Pandemic Times: Long before coronavirus, many restaurants had complained that the "Big Four" food delivery apps — UberEats, Postmates, GrubHub and DoorDash (which owns Caviar) — charged too much in commissions and fees, and those complaints have grown louder and more intense in recent months. Gov. Newsom responded to questions about state Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell's sudden resignation, which came after problems with the state's COVID-19 reporting system resulted in a backlog of almost 300,000 data records.

It’s Hot And It’s Quake-y: You are not imagining the heat – temperatures in July were two degrees hotter than average statewide compared to the historical record. Another cluster of dozens of small earthquakes struck near the San Andreas fault, so we talked with seismologists about the likelihood of a Big One being triggered.

California Kids: The most significant changes to California’s charter school law since its passage in 1992 took effect before this school year, and already charter advocates are unhappy about how LAUSD is handling the changes.

Here’s What To Do: Watch wacky videos compiled from found footage, listen to risky storytelling, get crafty and drink crafty, and more in this week’s best events. Listen to this week’s episode of California City, in which host Emily Guerin confronts the owner of Silver Saddle and walks away doubting herself.

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Photo Of The Day

Film programmer and Voyager Institute founder Bret Berg has launched a new online film showcase for found footage, including this image of Isabella Rossellini.

(Courtesy of the Museum of Home Video)

Help Us Cover Your Community

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The news cycle moves fast. Some stories don't pan out. Others get added. Consider this today's first draft, and check LAist.com for updates on these stories and more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This post has been updated to reflect changes in what's coming up for today.


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