San Diego businesses, restaurants in particular, have been turned inside-out once again.
Citing rising positive tests and hospitalizations from coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered the statewide closure of indoor operations at a laundry list of establishments including restaurants, wineries, gyms, hair salons, worship centers, personal care services, malls, movie theaters, zoos, aquariums, family entertainment centers, and card rooms, as well as the full closure of all bars and non-critical office settings.
In response to the rollback in small-business re-openings, just recently undertaken before COVID-19 cases spiked, San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer signed an executive order on July 7. That order provides regulatory relief to restaurants and makes dining safer by encouraging outdoor operations. The order, effective immediately, waives permitting and parking requirements for the use of sidewalks and private parking lots as outdoor dining venues.
“Numerous restaurants in Ocean Beach are utilizing the mayor’s new plan for outdoor sidewalk dining,” said Kristen Keltner, event and program manager for Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, the community’s business improvement district.
“OBMA has spoken with most of the restaurants that are rolling out sidewalk cafes to ensure they understand the public right-of-way guidelines,” Keltner said. “Although the mayor has waived permit fees, it’s our understanding that most of the PROW guidelines must be adhered to.”
Added Keltner, “OBMA will have an outdoor dining link on our website, oceanbeachsandiego.com, within the next few days. This link will include restaurants utilizing sidewalks and creating outdoor patios in private parking lots, along with restaurants who have existing outdoor space.”
The Peninsula Beacon spoke with three local restaurants – OB Surf Lodge, Raglan Public House, and Harbor Town Pub in Point Loma Village – to find out how they’re coping with the new indoor dining prohibition the second time around.
Turns out how eateries are faring with the new statewide regulations has a lot to do with what the mayor just addressed in his executive order: how much outdoor dining space they do – or don’t – have.
Josh Guidi, a manager at OB Surf Lodge at 5083 Santa Monica Ave., was busy Saturday, July 11 coordinating outdoor dining at the lodge. He admitted the restaurant is in better shape than most.
“We’re lucky to have this huge open-air venue where everyone can space themselves six feet from each other on the plaza,” Guidi said, adding, “There are no tables inside. We pulled all our tables outside to this plaza area. We’re blessed to have the venue that we have, and the team behind us.”
Guidi’s job description has been changed by the pandemic.
“My job has become more police officer and baby sitter to the general public than it has been,” he quipped. “This is a hard time. It’s an adjustment. You don’t know what to expect day-to-day.”
Chad Cline, owner of Harbor Town Pub at 1125 Rosecrans St., hasn’t been as fortunate as OB Surf Lodge.
“We’re coping the best we can, trying our best to not sink as fast,” Cline said. “Outdoor dining really isn’t a fix to the major issue associated with lease rates on building (space) we’re prohibited from using.”
Cline gave an analogy to describe the situation restaurants find themselves in now that indoor dining has been temporarily disallowed.
“The government singling us out is like being drafted in a war, and they’re using our businesses as soldiers to fight the coronavirus,” he said. “They’re basically taking our businesses as a defense against the spread. They’re using our businesses, but they’re not giving any protection so the soldiers can come back from it (war) alive.”
Pointing out Harbor Town does not lend itself as readily to outdoor dining, Cline noted he has been allowed by his landlord to convert some parking lot space to outdoor dining. But even that has come at a price.
“The street is not available to us,” Cline said. “Our sales are down more than 50 percent across-the-board. “I had to purchase a tent that costs $2,000 a month. And I haven’t gotten a break at all on my lease rate. What we really need is companies to provide us with some business-interruption insurance.”
Kyle Jaworski, managing partner of Raglan Public House at 1851 Bacon St., said take-out has worked for his business.
“We’ve been pushing our food-to-go and we’ve had so much success with it we’ve decided that’s something we’re always going to focus on more,” Jaworski said. “In addition to that, we’ve put up tables on the sidewalk adjacent to the restaurant. With that, we’ve been able to realize about 90% of the capacity we had when we came back to the modified dining inside.”
Jaworski said Raglan has also benefited from its location.
“Being near OB Noodle House and Poma’s Italian Deli, two other longstanding businesses, it’s almost like the food court of OB,” he said. “The three of us have all worked hard to support each other’s businesses and make the customers feel comfortable, and safe, dining out. The community has also really supported OB businesses and respected the health guidelines. It’s a positive thing to see.”
But the pandemic is far from over. And neither is the suffering of small-businesses forced to fight against COVID on the front lines.
“The sales are still there, and adapting to COVID has allowed us to streamline into one daily menu that has helped us manage those sales better and cut down on our cook times so we can turn tables over more quickly,” said Guidi of OB Surf Lodge. “People are willing to step out more now depending on how safe they feel. But you can’t just keep opening up and closing, opening up and closing, if you want businesses to continue to be open and thrive in the community.”