As restaurants in the area struggle to stay open during the latest wave of COVID-19 cases, they’re asking one simple thing of their customers.
“I hope the public will be patient and understand the reason we are closed,” said Kathy Monday, owner of Squeeze In restaurant in North Modesto. “We don’t want to be closed, obviously. If we are closed, we are doing our best to be safe. We do our best to be open.
The popular Monday breakfast and lunch spot in Village One was closed on Tuesday due to staffing issues. She strictly followed COVID safety precautions, sending staff home when they reported exposures to people with the virus. During the pandemic, she spent some $10,000 on new safety measures, from air purifiers to heat lamps and outdoor shade structures.
Monday said they were lucky they weren’t exposed to the restaurant with its staff of around 17. But she said workers had reported exposures outside of work and she had them stay home to keep everyone safe whenever it happened.
For larger restaurant staff, that’s not a problem, but she said smaller operations like hers will likely see more temporary and one- or two-day closures as the highly transmissible omicron variant continues to spread. spread in Stanislaus County.
Like Monday, chef and owner Tye Bauer had to close his Bauhaus restaurant for the week due to staffing issues. His other restaurant Modesto, Downtown Bauer Gastro Pub, remains open. Restaurants have had to be nimble throughout the pandemic, first moving to takeout, then managing new rules for outdoor and indoor seating.
“Business comes and goes in the downtown arena. I know we all experience something different every day of the week,” Bauer said.
Right next to downtown Modesto, Surla’s Restaurant closed until Feb. 1 due to new waves of COVID cases in the area. Chef and owner John Surla made the decision due to the spread of omicron “like wildfire” and in hopes of keeping his staff and customers safe.
His other Ripon restaurant, Fina, remains open. But Surla’s, its namesake flagship venue, was closed for much of the pandemic as it tried to weather the disruption to staff caused by the virus.
“I can’t cook everything myself,” he says.
Restaurant owners and managers have said two things that could help them survive the current outbreak are more and readily available rapid tests and – as has been a constant refrain during the pandemic – more staff.
They also advise customers to call ahead or check social media before showing up, to avoid potential disappointment with so many flows due to staff and illness.
Staffing was also an issue for Frank Machado, the owner of the elegant bull, a steak restaurant in Delhi. Machado was forced to reduce hours and cut lunch service due to a lack of staff.
He and his son Daniel, one of the restaurant’s chefs, are struggling to find cooks, dishwashers and servers. Some of its servers, Machado said, work day shifts and then come to the Elegant Bull after their shifts are over to work serving dinner.
“They already have jobs,” he says. “They make money because no one else will come.”
Machado finally closed the restaurant for a day this week because it didn’t have enough staff. He said he was struggling to hire not only because of the surge in the pandemic, but also because there are people still living on unemployment benefits who have yet to return to work.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s often not young people who don’t return to work, but older Americans who are accelerating their retirement, according to a CNN analysis.
As Machado seeks more staff, Manuel Fernandez, the director of Coco Loco, a Mexican seafood restaurant in Modesto, said its restaurant would be helped the most by investments in small businesses. El Coco Loco opened in July 2019, so it was ineligible for many of the loans and grants available at the start of the pandemic.
The restaurant has now adjusted its hours permanently – it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays – and Fernandez said the flow of customers was “volatile”.
Fernandez and his 12-person team have been able to keep the restaurant operating, but he said with the latest surge in cases, some of his customers are hesitant to dine in person. El Coco Loco also offers takeout and delivery, and Fernandez said the flexibility has allowed the restaurant to stay open for the past two years.
“We have to find the best way to survive,” he said.
This story was produced with the financial support of Stanislaus Community Foundation, with the GroundTruth Projectit is Report for America Initiative. The Modesto Bee retains full editorial control of this work.
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This story was originally published January 14, 2022 6:30 a.m.