By ELLAH FOSTER
Lisa Weiman, the owner of Peppers Mexicali Cafe in Pacific Grove, was unsure of the first move for her business when California Governor Gavin Newsom requested that all restaurants cut staff capacity and only do takeout and delivery.
“My first reaction was that we had to close,” Weiman begins. “I was afraid to serve customers. But after we closed for a week, we realized we could stay open and do it safely.”
Peppers reopened shortly after with a reduced staff, limited menu and modified hours. This is the new reality for many local dining establishments, while the rest have chosen to close for the duration of the mandate.
Sue Galdo, a server at Pacific Grove’s First Awakenings, is still working as the restaurant serves takeout and delivery. She points out that they have been following all recommended guidelines like social distancing, using hand sanitizer, wearing masks and washing hands. Additionally, First Awakenings has been taking staff temperatures, disinfecting surfaces between orders and even marking the floors to ensure that customers and workers are keeping their distance.
While not all restaurants are taking as much precaution, it is ultimately up to customers to decide which establishments to support.
“I think this will have a huge impact on the industry,” Weiman explains. “The restaurant business is month-to-month, so if they shut you down in March, you still haven’t paid the bills for February and now don’t even have the income.”
Carmel’s Sur manager and head server Tracie Holt has ceased working at all since the restaurant has entirely closed for the pandemic.
“It is scary because you really do not know what will happen in the restaurant business,” Holt explains. “You don’t always know if you’re going to be able to get what you need or pay rent because of money.”
Having worked in the service industry for over 20 years, Holt adds that Monterey County may witness the demise of many locally owned, smaller restaurants, especially those that are new.
“It takes about five years for a restaurant to establish itself, so any restaurant that has just started will have a hard time reopening after this,” Holt says. “It is hard to make end’s meet during the slow season, but now we are talking about the slow season being year round. It’ll be rough-going for at least a few years.”
Carmel High junior Ruby Defloria had been working at Ocean Sushi Deli in Monterey before the outbreak, but has since been laid off as the owners closed their doors.
“I was supposed to go back on April 8, when quarantine was supposed to be over, but since it is extended we are unsure of when that will be,” she notes. “Honestly, I am a little worried. It is a very small restaurant, and I don’t know how it will hold up.”
Many establishments have been offering deals, such as discounted drinks or taking a percentage off the bill, in an effort to attract more customers. Weiman says that the type of food served is important to how successful restaurants might be in this time, as pricier fine dining may not be as easily transported for delivery.
Holt also believes that the county could witness better work environments after the economic aftershock of COVID-19.
“We [restaurant staff] go for the tips, not the wage usually,” the manager says. “So when you are faced with feeding your family, you will go into work sick. That has been happening for a long time, but it has never been recognized before. The long-term effect of this will be devastating, but hopefully eye opening to people in this area, like employers to adopt health care for their employees, paid family leave and sick time.”
Despite the unknown future, it is clear that restaurant staff and owners just want to get back to their job.
Defloria notes that she misses her coworkers most and, of course, the free food.
“I miss the customers, just talking and hanging out with them,” Weiman says. “Especially because we are such a locals’ place, we see the same people and we all know each other on a personal level.”