Restaurants struggle to survive amid shifting regulations

CULVER CITY — Local restaurants have found themselves in a precarious situation as they try to adhere to ever-evolving health notices from state and local authorities on curbing the spread of COVID-19.

The frequent change in mandatory regulations is one of several factors threatening the survival of some of the city’s restaurants.

“The biggest challenge is not the operations,” said Jason Peoples, vice president of operations for Public School 310 in downtown Culver City. “It’s not taking care of people. It’s not preparing the food.

It’s more dealing with what feels like day-to-day changes in restrictions.

“Not being able to get a clear sense of what’s mandated and what’s not — it’s hard to find exactly what we’re supposed to do. … It’s a challenge for the restaurants,” Peoples added.

On May 29, California Gov. Gavin Newsom allowed Los Angeles County restaurants to reopen their dining rooms for the first time since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic started. He also allowed bars to reopen on June 18.

Many of these establishments had only reopened for three weeks, when Newsom ordered bars in L.A. County to close completely on June 28, and restaurants to close indoor dining a couple of days later, following a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The challenges of adhering to these new rules include restricting dine-in to the outdoor patio, and operating at less than half capacity.

“We have eight tables that we can operate,” Peoples said. “It’s fairly simple to do, but we have to do it with minimal staff, so everybody’s running around.”

Restaurant employees are reluctant to return to work, with many choosing instead to collect $600 a week in federal pandemic unemployment assistance, which is set to end on July 31. Among employees’ concerns are the fear of contracting COVID-19, as well as the pressure of doing more work with less help.

For Peoples, trying to navigate those conversations with employees has been challenging. Operating at half capacity also means less revenue for restaurants that are already struggling.

“We’re trying to figure out how to pay the bills and pay the right ones and ask for leniency in other places,” Peoples said. “That’s not a situation we’re used to being in.

“As we continue to struggle, it feels like the rug continues to get pulled out from underneath us.”

By Cynthia Gibson

Contributing Writer