Coping. For restaurants in Pacific Beach like Bub’s at the Beach and Point Break, that’s what doing business has been all about the last six months since COVID struck.
“Some of this stuff (metrics) just doesn’t make sense,” lamented restaurateur Todd Brown, who owns Bubs at the Beach at 1030 Garnet Ave., Bub’s at the Ballpark (restaurantji.com/ca/san-diego/bubs-at-the-beach-/), and The Blind Burro, as well as being co-owner of Waterbar at 4325 Ocean Blvd. “It’s hard to believe this isn’t political. The impact has just been phenomenal.”
“We need something (more),” said Mike Lee, whose family-friendly eatery Point Break, at 945 Garnet Ave., combines a bowling alley with a late-night bar and dance club. “I do not see how restaurants will not go out of business and landlords be left with empty space. They’re (government) saying you can have 25% occupancy inside, which is a joke in terms of sustainability.”
Pointing out he’s done parklets to survive, Brown of Bub’s noted he’s had to deal with blowback from outside parking spots he’s had to displace. He said people would be surprised by what sometimes goes down in PB parking spaces near restaurants.
“In front of Waterbar we lost 12 parking spaces, which did not have time requirements,” Brown said. “Eight of those spaces, the same people parked there every day, and they didn’t move all day. We had a guy practically living in the parking space who used to get a campfire going there. There was another guy in a van who used the parking space four or five days a week as a mobile barbershop cutting hair. The (loss of) parking there is very overstated.”
Lee said some of the new COVID health restrictions are unmanageable.
“They want us to collect the names of every person that comes into the restaurant,” Lee said. “And then they want their phone numbers. You should see the names we’re getting. And the overwhelming phone number we’re getting is 867-5309. Do you think someone is really going to give me their phone number? It’s ridiculous.”
The peak summer season is now over, which doesn’t bode well for restaurants trying to hang on.
“Right now, I don’t know if we’re going to make it, it’s bare-knuckle brawling,” Brown said. “I’m praying I’m going to be able to keep the place open. But it’s going to be very tough. We finally opened back up on Memorial Day weekend, finally got enough traction, then boom, they closed us down again.”
Added Brown: “The first-time closure was so sudden, we had food in the walk-in we had to give to employees and we got zero dollars back from that. Another thing people don’t realize is restaurant equipment is meant to work continuously. If you don’t shut it down right, you can lose it. We’ve lost more equipment in the last six months than in the last five years. It’s just another burden that’s been financially difficult for us.”
Lee questioned many of the mandated pandemic restrictions.
“These arbitrary rules are just damaging to the restaurants and they are just creating liability in so many ways,” he said, adding that doesn’t even begin to address the cost of compliance to restaurateurs like himself.
“Putting together outdoor dining isn’t cheap,” Lee said. “We’re basically building a restaurant (outside) every week. We’ve had to buy tables, chairs, umbrellas, tents, and Astroturf. It costs you $10,000 before you even make a nickel back. The last thing you need is that out-of-pocket expense.”
Added Lee: “The health department comes up with ideas that may sound OK on paper, but when it comes right down to it, the repercussions on the restaurant business just make it impossible (to comply). Starting and stopping restaurants, or any other business is not sustainable. There are going to be an incredible, historic amount of restaurant closures this year.”