Panoringan: What Orange County Restaurants are Saying About How COVID-19 is Affecting Their Business

Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan

Cal Shabu in Costa Mesa practicing social distancing Sunday evening by seating groups with space inbetween.

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Anne Marie Panoringan

Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for 8 years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly On the Line column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.

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NOTE: Each restaurant’s operations status is being updated on a rolling basis as minute-by-minute decisions are being made.

COVID-19 concerns became more real after Sunday’s speech by Gavin Newsom, asking for bars and wineries to close, as well as restaurants seating at a maximum 50% capacity to practice social distancing.

While major corporations can take measures to ensure their longevity, independently-owned bars and eateries will suffer from the loss of revenue. In addition, the workforce is suffering due to school closures, scrambling to locate care for their children while remaining gainfully employed. Here are a few of the thoughts and sentiments from the hospitality industry with regards to the state of our county.

Photo courtesy of Centro Collective

When you cannot decide between tacos and pizza, Centro Collective specializes in both.

Chad Urata and Brent Omeste: Chefs and Owners of Centro Collective, Lake Forest

Here’s How They’re Coping:
▪ Temporarily closed.

“It was inevitable that the restaurant bubble would burst – this may just be the thing to do it. Never thought that this is the way things would go down. Hopefully we (small businesses) can survive.

“This is all unchartered territory for us. Initially, we weren’t terribly concerned. When the news came out about conventions and sports being cancelled, we don’t rely on that business. But now that we’re hearing that many of the businesses nearby are having their employees work remotely, we don’t know what’s going to happen.

“The one thing that we do know for certain is how incredibly grateful we are to our regulars. They were the first to check in with us, and many have pledged to do what they can to help support us in these trying times. We are truly humbled by their support and generosity. If nothing else, please say that. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see how things go and take it day by day. We remain hopeful, but are doing what we can to prepare for the unknown ahead.”

They originally stated that they were delivering via Postmates and had online ordering pickup via Slice.  However, they are temporarily closing all operations at this time.

Photo courtesy of The Cannery

The Cannery in Newport Beach

Alyssa McDiarmid: General Manager of The Cannery, Newport Beach

Here’s How They’re Coping:
▪ Open for business for now.
▪ Practicing social distancing.

“We have definitely seen a hit, unfortunately. Currently, our weekdays have been affected the most, with the loss of business travel. Special events for our coastal restaurants have seen a combined loss of $70,000 to date.

“Just as everyone else has probably commented, we have ramped up sanitation/cleaning practices. In addition to our kitchen employees, food runners and bartenders are now in gloves. We have gone to tablecloths on our booth tables, and have added a number of Purell stations for guests around the common areas. When we can, we have respected the 6-feet rule by seating every other table.

“The biggest and most important of all of this is remaining calm and keeping a positive outlook. People need a light in an otherwise dark time. We hope they find that with us.”

Photo courtesy o f Gunwhale Ales

Purchase local beer for home consumption, like the cans and crowlers (not growlers) at Gunwhale.

Justin Miller: Co-founder of Gunwhale Ales, Costa Mesa and Orange

Here’s How They’re Coping: 
▪ Tasting room is closed, but retail sales are open.
▪ Six-packs and “crowlers” available to go.
▪ Phone orders and delivery are still available.

“Packaged beer is an oxygen-free environment. Foodborne illnesses or viruses can’t live in beer. Buy local craft beer. We employ your neighbors and friends.

“Small craft breweries are usually boot-strapped. We are not supported by Daddy Warbucks. It’s important to understand that. A significant dip in sales could mean closure for a lot of small businesses. As a community, it’s important to understand that by supporting your local sandwich shop, barber shop, brewery or local mechanic, your money is directly affecting your community.”

Photo courtesy of Burnt Crumbs

Souffle pancakes are a brunch speciality at Burnt Crumbs in Irvine.

Paul Cao: Chef/Co-founder of Burnt Crumbs, Irvine and Huntington Beach

Here’s How They’re Coping: 
▪ Open for business for now.
▪ Curbside pick-up available.
▪ Selling gift cards for future use.
▪ Deliveries available through Postmates, Doordash, Grubhub, and UberEats.

“(Sunday’s) brunch service was BAD. Sales were down about 50%. And I think it may get worse before better.

“Like Jason (from Playground in Santa Ana) said, if you can’t support your local businesses by coming in, buying gift cards for future use is a great idea. Other than that, we’re trying our best to reassure that we’re doing everything in our power to keep everything clean and sanitized at all times. I just think everyone is so spooked right now.”

Photo courtesy of Michael’s on Naples

Michael’s on Naples in Long Beach is currently offering 20% off all gift card sales.

Eric Samaniego: Executive Chef of Michael’s on Naples, Long Beach

Here’s How They’re Coping: 
▪ Offering a three-course curbside pickup menu.
▪ Offering 20% off all gift card sales.

“The hardest part about this whole situation is dealing with the unknown. First, obviously, for my own family, but then my responsibility as a leader in my kitchen.

“We are trying to do the right thing. We are trying not to panic, to take it one day at a time. The hardest thing about all of this is not knowing how bad it might get. We are trying to be creative; we just started offering a three-course curbside pickup menu at the restaurant. It just started, but so far it’s been going well.

“We all know that everyone is anxious and a little scared. We are just trying to offer a safe place for those who want to go out and take their minds off of the current situation, even if just for a few hours.”

Photo courtesy of Bosscat Kitchen & Libations

Bosscat is well-known for their brunch service.

Leslie Nguyen: Co-owner of Bosscat Kitchen & Libations, Newport Beach (and soon in Orange)

Here’s How They’re Coping: 
▪ Open for business for now.

“Along with many industries across the world, the hospitality industry can sometimes be volatile and constantly shifts. With the recent intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that this could greatly affect not only our business, but much of the world. Our restaurant is intended to be a place where you can have fun, relax, or get away from regular stresses of life. And it is unfortunate that this virus has become such a widespread pandemic and will be hindering people from going out. However, this is something that we take very seriously.

“In response to this outbreak, we have done everything we can to assure our staff and customers that we have taken an active role in prevention, safety and health. We have ramped up our sanitation procedures, and worked diligently to instill the seriousness of this to our staff members.

“Despite the current level of fear, we want to let people know that we are open and intend to welcome our customers in as usual. Still, we encourage all staff and customers who are feeling any symptoms to stay home. Prevention and health are our highest priorities.

This Writer’s Take on the Situation

While I understand the thought process behind purchasing a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant, I am also a pessimist at heart and fear the worst – that your favorite place won’t be open in “x” number of weeks/months. So I’d rather order takeout now for a working lunch or that evening’s dinner; even treat a friend or coworker out for a meal. I’m sure we could all use someone to talk to these days.

Also, when it comes to grocery shopping, I’m trying to choose smarter. We purchased paper goods out of necessity a month ago, so my concern is more about food. Instead of a gallon of OJ or bag of oranges, I headed to the frozen section and took frozen concentrate. It takes up less room, and waste isn’t an issue. I also plan to purchase loose leaf tea from a business in Tustin in lieu of bags and brew a cup when I start to feel hunger pangs, as I’ve read the average person is likely dehydrated before they are actually hangry. Akin to rationing Girl Scout Thin Mints (or so I’m told), one can also freeze a loaf of bread and toast individual slices as needed. That’s one less grocery item to stress about.

In other news . . .

Many families depend upon meals at school to help feed their children during the day.  With schools closing for the next few weeks or more, here’s a sampling of a few restaurants that are stepping up to fill the gap.

Slapfish Restaurants, all OC locations

According to founder Andrew Gruel, kids under 12 will eat for free every day. The menu includes a shrimp bowl, salmon quesadilla, fish bites, organic tenders, grilled cheese, burger, grilled fish taco and chicken taco. Parents just need to make a purchase. This will be available for pickup and delivery orders.

Break of Dawn, Laguna Hills

Chef/Owner Dee Nguyen will offer meals without cost to children below the age of 17 who are accompanied by an adult. This will occur during normal operating hours from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

Per Nguyen, “While we understand that school closures play an important role in limiting the transmission of the Coronavirus, there’s also the concern about the impact that it may cause to the communities who rely on schools for children to have access to breakfast and lunch. It’s important that we continue to feed our students.”

The Dylan, Brea

Free breakfast burritos will be available to kids ages 6-12 years old from 7 to 8 a.m., Monday through Friday at The Dylan, 190 S. State College Blvd. This is not part of their normal dining, and they will be handed out near the front door entrance of the restaurant.

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at ampanoringan@voiceofoc.org.