Omicron marks a difficult year for restaurateurs

ARTESIA, Calif .– As 2021 draws to a close, Rishi Patel is back to square one.

“We are in the same place as last year – closed,” said Patel, co-owner of Dip Shabu Shabu, a restaurant in Artesia. “I was closed at the start of the year. Now I’m temporarily closed at the end of the year.”

What would you like to know

  • Latest increase in omicron cases forces some Southern California restaurants to close
  • The surge of the omicron variant arriving during the busiest time of year for the restaurant industry highlights the difficulties faced by restaurateurs this year
  • Most restaurants were closed at the start of the year due to a statewide stay-at-home order
  • Experts believe the worst is behind us and restaurants will fare better in 2022

Patel isn’t the only restaurateur to shut down – again – as the more transmissible omicron variant sweeps across the Southland.

In Los Alamitos, Original Fish Co. placed a sign on its door earlier this week saying it was due to close Tuesday and Wednesday “due to COVID uncertainty, disinfection and testing.” According to their website, the restaurant also plans to close on New Years Day and the next day, usually one of the busiest times in the New Year. The owner of Original Fish Co. did not return a request for comment from Spectrum News at the time of posting.

Park’s Finest at Echo Park has also temporarily closed. After feeding the front lines for most of the year, the Philippine barbecue restaurant reopened its storefront three days a week in September, only to deal with unruly customer behavior, lack of workers and all the other challenges. of the global pandemic.

“We are tired, exhausted and frightened by the constant threat of exposure and the added burden of testing, retesting, isolating, accommodating schedule deviations and providing explanations to staff and guests about our current situation,” said Concordia on The Park’s Finest Instagram page. “So we’re stopping to take a break, regroup and try again in 2022. We wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.”

Concordia did not return a text message from Spectrum News for further comment at the time of publication.

For many restaurateurs in Southern California, 2021 has been filled with one calamity after another and is like the movie “Groundhog Day” except that it lasts all year round.

The latest wave of omicron and staff shortages is another challenge restaurant owners face at the end of the year.

And in many ways, the variant that appears during the busiest time of the year is indicative of the frustrating situation for the industry in 2021 as they all continue to fight the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions associated with it. the pandemic.

Rishi Patel, co-owner of Dip Shabu Shabu in Artesia, CA (Spectrum News / Joseph Pimentel)

“We try to roll with the punches, but it just doesn’t stop,” Patel said.

The year began with the closure of many restaurants and other businesses. In December 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom, who used the state’s now-defunct color-coding system that tracks COVID-19 cases, placed a statewide stay-at-home order due to the increase infection rates.

Restaurants and interior spaces have had to close their doors or limit the capacity of customers and staff on leave until they are given permission to reopen.

This only happened at the end of January, and even when restaurants were allowed to reopen, it was to be patio and outdoor dining only.

As cases tended to decline, indoor dining returned in March, but with capacity restrictions based on the color of the county’s COVID-19 risk level.

Over the year, Orange County imposed fewer restaurant restrictions. Meanwhile, their Los Angeles neighbor has imposed strict COVID-related warrants, including requiring proof of vaccination before dining inside.

Justin McMahon, JLL’s vice president of retail rentals and restaurants, said 2021 has been a trying year for many restaurateurs in Southern California, especially Los Angeles, where there were more restrictions COVID-related and the central business district. was hammered due to fewer people entering the offices.

Orange County restaurants fared better with fewer restrictions.

Yet what 2021 has shown, McMahon said, is that people want to go out, dine and spend money despite the pandemic.

“The main problems for restaurants this year were not due to lack of demand,” said McMahon. “The demand is there for the most part, unless they are too dependent on the clientele of the business district.

McMahon said many of his restaurant patrons‘ top concerns were with staff, but add the possibility of infection and their situation worsened.

“The staffing is a nightmare,” added McMahon. “It was a nightmare before the pandemic, and there are a million reasons, but now you get someone to test positive, then you have to take them off their shift, find out who has been exposed and close contact. It’s crazy. “

But one thing that stood out for McMahon in 2021 was the resilience of restaurateurs.

“Those who succeeded prospered because they understood it,” he said. “Some dedicated take-out, online ordering restaurateurs were making sure the staff were healthy, and they improved cleaning and masking. They did their best to accommodate clients and straddled the line for all different mandates.

McMahon is optimistic restaurateurs will do better in 2022.

“People are adapting and learning to live in this pandemic environment,” he said. “In my opinion, you are going to see consumers come back and resume their normal activities. I think the worst is over.”

For Patel, owner of a shabu shabu restaurant, 2021 became increasingly difficult as the year progressed despite grants to businesses and money from the government’s paycheck protection program.

He not only addressed trade restrictions and labor shortage linked to LA’s COVID, but inflation as well. The cost of meat and vegetable products has increased “by 100%”.

“We used to have a lunch and dinner menu with different prices,” Patel said. “Now we only have dinner prices. Next year I will probably have to increase the prices, and I hate that. I don’t want to overtake my clients.”

He also discovered during this time that a small number of customers weren’t as friendly as they used to be.

“We have had nasty customers since we reopened,” he said. “It’s like the situation with the flight attendants. Fortunately, it didn’t come to this. [physical altercation] level but we had a guy who came out and a few more [complaining]. “

When a member of her staff was told to be in close contact with a friend who tested positive for COVID earlier this week, Patel closed the restaurant and tested all of her staff.

His team was fine, but he wanted to take precautions despite this being the busiest time of year for his restaurant.

“In a way, it’s an oxymoron,” he said. “It’s a bad thing for our staff who depend on a paycheck, but it’s also good because a lot of them are exhausted. We don’t have a lot of staff. They work really hard.”

Patel hoped customers understood why he needed to temporarily shut down or cut hours this week.

Last year, the government closed restaurants to protect the public and limit the spread of the coronavirus. Now Patel is left to protect his clients and staff. Patel doesn’t expect the government to shut things down again.

He plans to reopen his restaurant with limited hours over New Years weekend and go with the flow after that.

“I hope they will understand,” Patel said. “These are tough times. We have to adapt.”

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