June 15 Will Be A Soft Reopening For Many LA Restaurants And Bars
On June 15, California will ditch its county-by-county, tiered reopening system. Back in April, Governor Gavin Newsom said he thought this was when the state would be ready to "fully reopen." But what does that phrase actually mean?
Restaurants and bars will, for the most part, get to return to the way things were in the Before Times. Pandemic protocols requiring venues to space tables farther apart, limit venue capacity, require customers to wear masks and prevent people from different households from eating together will likely disappear.
What about proof of COVID-19 vaccination? Or mask-wearing for employees? Or other regulations? We don't know.
As of publication time, the L.A. County Department of Public Health still hasn't released guidelines for dining and drinking establishments. (This is nothing new. On May 29, 2020, L.A. County public health officials told restaurants they could reopen their dining rooms that day as long as they followed the county's new guidelines... but officials hadn't yet posted those guidelines when they made the announcement. It went super well.)
"We're sorry for the uncertainty," said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a news conference late last week.
The upshot? While California's June 15 reopening is doomsday in reverse for the hospitality industry, it will be something of a soft opening for many Los Angeles County establishments.
How Are Restaurants And Bars Prepping For June 15?
"We're still putting a game plan together on how we're going to deal with that," says Terry Dulan, who owns and operates two Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen locations, one in Inglewood and another near Century and Western. (His brother Greg runs another location on Crenshaw and 48th.) "We may not do it exactly on June 15th, but we are definitely going to open up and follow whatever guidelines there are that are in place."
Although he has been allowed to offer indoor dining for almost a month, Dulan has chosen not to. "We just thought it was the prudent thing to wait until we kind of got a stranglehold on the virus before you open up. You just want to see the numbers go way down and make sure that everyone's as safe as possible — our customers, our staff."
"The problem with this June 15th change is that there's still no guidance," says Dina Samson, co-owner of Rossoblu and Superfine Pizza, both in downtown L.A. "So I'm not sure how we're supposed to reopen when we don't even have that."
Samson has remotely attended informational calls and town hall meetings but, like other L.A. County restaurateurs, has yet to receive actual reopening guidelines.
She is waiting until Cal/OSHA's Standards Board meets on June 17 to consider adopting proposed revisions to its emergency temporary standards for workplaces. Assuming the board approves the revisions, they won't go into effect until June 28.
"So for us at Rossoblu, we probably will not make any big changes until the beginning of July, just to be safe and make sure that we have all the guidelines right," Samson says.
At Tirsa's Mexican Cafe in Chinatown, owner and chef Tirsa Farah says, "We're not making any plans, per se. We've been ready. We can't get any more readier."
At full capacity, her restaurant seats only 25 people. So when indoor dining was, once again, allowed, even at a significantly reduced capacity, "we were hanging on for dear life, the last couple of months of the pandemic… We instantly saw a drastic change in our sales," Farah says.
Although the vast majority of her customers still preferred takeout or delivery, offering dine-in service had a major impact. She had decided, for a variety of reasons, not to invest in an al fresco dining setup for Tirsa's.
"Being in downtown with no dine-out option, it was getting a little bit hard to compete with all of these places opening up their patios. So when we were able to get at least two to three tables in our space, it made a huge difference, even though they weren't being used. It was just some kind of mind thing. People were like, 'Oh, they're open.' That instantly made it a little bit busier."
"I feel like June 15 is gonna allow us to go back to somewhat of a normal business plan. We are hoping to be able to serve more people and we're hoping that we have more employees," Mofid says.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, bars that didn't serve food had to operate under more stringent regulations — lower capacity, later reopening dates — than restaurants or bars that served food. Mofid spent thousands of dollars adding a kitchen so the Wrigley Tavern could keep operating. He also turned a neighboring empty lot into a beer garden.
Now, he needs to hire a bartender and servers to keep up with what he expects to be a big bump in customers. Mofid says he has been taking out ads and asking around for months.
"When I went to the store across the street to buy a 'Help Wanted' sign, they had sold out. It has been impossible. Everyone I speak to says the same thing. They're having the hardest time finding any employees," Mofid says.
Still, June 15 is a bright light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for most restaurateurs and bar owners.
Farah says she is ready to pop a bottle of champagne. "We took for granted the space that we had to actually seat people inside. We took for granted our customers being able to come and visit us. We never thought anything like this could happen. As tiny as it is, we took it being filled, we took the vibe, we took the liveliness for granted. We are just so ready to have it filled up again and see our customers and kick it with them.