Monday’s announcement of loosening restrictions for restaurants has brought mixed feelings for foodservice industry professionals. In the days that followed, decisions had to be made on how to move forward. Staffing and inclement weather were only two of the factors to consider.

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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As of Jan. 25, the Regional Stay at Home Order ends as ICU projections rise above the 15% capacity level. This also ends the Limited Stay at Home Order. Orange County remains in the most restrictive, purple tier. According to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, restaurants in the purple tier are allowed to be open for outdoor seating with modifications, to-go, and delivery service only.

After checking in with four businesses personally affected by these restrictions, it is clear that there is tension between reticence and relief. Restaurant owners are eager to reopen, but don’t trust that they’ll be able to stay open.

100inc Agency

Bobby Navarro, founder of 100inc Agency, and his team specialize in event marketing and social media. With multiple restaurant and retail brands as clients, Navarro makes note of the dining landscape as a whole.

“I don’t think the average consumer, nor state and local politicians, are really considering the impact this ‘open and close’ strategy is having on the restaurant industry,” Navarro said. “With no county guidance and little to no financial support to struggling businesses after nearly a year, these restaurants need to open, but at what cost? Our restaurant clients, like the 4th Street Market and its tenants, have taken some of the biggest hits of their lives and we can only hope that this opening comes in time to make a difference.

“It’s not the chains and the fast food spots that are going to suffer; it is the family-owned and operated businesses that have put their heart and souls into their dream who are going to be the most affected.”

Golden Road Pub

Sara O’Shea is general manager of Golden Road Pub’s location across from Angel Stadium. Originating in Los Angeles, GR’s footprint is considerably larger than your typical tasting room. It’s fortunate the on-site brewery was built not only for extensive indoor and outdoor seating, but also offers lunch and dinner service. Breweries and bars without dining menus already in place were forced to either close temporarily or swiftly incorporate foodservice. O’Shea oversees a team of front and back-of-the-house staff.

“Golden Road is extremely excited to re-open for outdoor dining, welcoming back the public with open arms and a cold beer,” said O’Shea. “We are looking forward to all of the possibilities coming this year, with safety protocols front of mind for guests including socially-distanced seating outdoors, mandatory PPE usage for employees, and additional sanitizing stations throughout the premises.

“The past year has been quite the rollercoaster, but our hard-working team has been so resilient, making it possible for us to roll with all of the curve balls thrown our way. Due to the shutdown, business was slower than usual, but we’re hopeful to rebound quickly knowing we are able to welcome our guests back safely outdoors.”

Everyday Eatery

Brian Clark and his wife Nasim co-own Everyday Eatery in Irvine: a breakfast, lunch, brunch and coffee establishment. Originally opened in autumn of 2019, the eatery has a loyal following from surrounding businesses, plus local neighborhoods on the weekends despite its corporate park destination and daytime-only hours. As a new business owner pre-COVID, adjusting to updated protocols proved challenging at times.

“We’re glad to see things going back in the direction of reopening,” said Clark. “Eating on real plates with real knives and forks, even if only outdoors for now, was always part of the experience we wanted to provide at Everyday Eatery. It will be a challenge to rebuild our systems to accommodate both for here and to go, but the presentation just comes across better on real plates, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Strong Water Anaheim

Previously associated with the Packing House a few blocks away, Ying Adamson is co-owner of Strong Water Anaheim. This tiki-themed speakeasy with a kitchen debuted at the end of 2019. Due to the layout of surrounding businesses, it has been forced to conduct takeaway service only. Adamson’s perspective is one that many small businesses are struggling with.

“Being a restaurant owner right now is beyond hard. You have a decision to make for the safety of your team, guests and family, on top of trying to stay alive both literally and figuratively. There’s a moral dilemma for me; I just can’t let anyone die under my leadership,” said Adamson. “That may sound extreme, but it’s the truth. I personally think the mandate is being lifted too early. It’s allowing more people to go out, giving them the green light. Yes it’s limited capacity, but who’s really patrolling or monitoring? Saving restaurants has not been on the political agenda. There are grants, PPP, loans, etc., but that won’t cut it. There needs to be more done as we transition into the new norm — whatever that may entail.

“We’ll likely be opening up outdoors because we have to sustain, but only offering pick-up and outdoor seating. I’m working with the city of Anaheim to expand the patio on a land closure, allowing the ability to space properly. I don’t have a patio or parking lot nearby. I merely have a sidewalk, and we’ve been creative and nimble throughout COVID. Our relevance to our guests has kept us alive. They appreciate how safe we’ve been operating, often telling us they don’t feel safe elsewhere. Even when indoor (dining) was allowed, we never opened up indoor seating. When outdoor was allowed we continued to only offer curbside. In August, our ‘Fairadise’ (think fair meets tiki) themed menu was our opportunity to see if safe sidewalk seating worked, and it did. We continued outdoor seating until the mandate in late 2020.

“This is not to say that I don’t want restaurants to survive, because I do. Each person is figuring out how to overcome this battle however they see fit. For me, safety will always come first. Money can be made and is replaceable. People are not.”

An increase in vaccinations as additional sites are activated, combined with forecasted projections means COVID statistics will continue to change by the week. How the government responds to this change will dictate the future of corporate and privately-owned food businesses.

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

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