It may seem like the end of the world, now that even more restrictive emergency measures aimed at battling a quickly spreading coronavirus have been ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom, as well as Los Angeles County and Pasadena leaders.
But Pasadena businesses — primarily the city’s bread-and- butter dining industry and its thriving health and fitness merchants — aren’t licked yet, said Pasadena Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Paul Little.
“Everyone, individuals, businesses, nonprofits and health care providers, are being strained by the epidemic,” Little noted in a message emailed to members on Thursday.
“While absolutely necessary to ensure the health of our residents, closure orders for restaurants, entertainment venues, meeting spaces, fitness studios and more are having a drastic and negative impact on our business community and their employees,” Little wrote.
The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, as of March 23, had infected 332,930 people and killed 14,510 in countries around the world. Italy recently surpassed China with the most deaths at 5,476. The United States had 33,404 cases and 400 deaths from coronavirus. In California, there were 1,733 confirmed cases and 27 deaths. In Los Angeles County, there were 536 cases and seven deaths, with six confirmed infections in Pasadena.
Governor Gavin Newsom warned that more than 25 million Californians may become infected. In an attempt to “flatten the curve” and stem the spread of the virus, the nation, state and county have implemented “stay at home” orders for millions.
Many of these restrictions have severely dampened revenue for many businesses, especially restaurants, a mainstay of Pasadena’s economy.
The “Safer at Home” order implemented by Los Angeles County health officials forces restaurants to close their dining rooms and to only serve take-out orders and offer delivery service. This has led restaurants, such as Raymond 1886, to dramatically change their business and cut staff.
“We just started it. we traditionally have not been a delivery and take-out,” said Rob Levy, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Leslie Levy. Their business has lost revenue because of the restrictions, forcing them to furlough 42 employees, some of whom have been working at the restaurant for decades.
“We have basically four employees right now,” said Leslie. “We have two managers that we’re keeping on and two chefs, and that’s it.”
Even businesses, such as the Green Street Restaurant in the South Lake Avenue Business District, which have offered delivery in the past, are struggling with the repercussions of COVID-19. Green Street Restaurant operated on essentially three income sources: dining, catering and take-out/delivery.
Now the restaurant relies on the sole income of take-out/delivery.
“Mom and pops especially run very tight to the vest and then your cash is yanked out from underneath you… it’s very, very difficult” said Michael Hawkins, one of the restaurant’s owners.
Even though the business is going through a rough patch, Hawkins and his partners still try to take care of their staff, spreading the hours around the cooks and staff so their employees can still make some money. They also gave their staff a $50 food voucher for the restaurant.
While these restaurants try to make it, many of their patrons and customers have supported them by buying gift cards to use after the restrictions are lifted.
“People are buying gift certificates to use later on down the road, just as a sign of support,” said Kathleen Meymarian, owner of Kathleen’s on North Lake Avenue.
Meymarian has taken similar steps to Hawkins’, cutting back on staff but still trying to keep as many of her employees as possible on the job.
Even with the reduction of operation costs, Meymarian and the other restaurants are still fearful that they will have to close their doors. She echoes the same concerns many other restaurants have voiced during this unparalleled period.
“We’ve been here for 38 years and we’ve never seen anything like this — this is uncharted territory,” said Meymarian. “We are definitely stressed out and fearful. We’re just hoping with reduced staff and operating costs and with [the revenue] that’s coming in will be able to sustain us, so we can keep the doors open. We’re not sure yet, but we’re very hopeful — but, again, we’re extremely scared.”
The prospect of closing is a very possible reality for restaurants if they do not receive enough support at this time.
“The hope is we continue to encourage people to patronize and support the businesses they have always patronized and supported, in one way or another,” Little said. “Even if they are not open, you can buy a gift card now and that may mean they open up for customers again when these orders are lifted.”
In neighboring Glendale, which also has a thriving restaurant component to its municipal economy, leaders are reaching out to their constituents and others to help merchants survive the pandemic.
“Dine-in food service is currently prohibited, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still order your favorite meals for pick up or delivery,” recently elected City Councilman Ardy Kassakhian wrote in an email. Kassakhian formerly served as Glendale’s city clerk, an elected post in that community.
“Many of the restaurants in our city rely on our support to stay in business, and I encourage you to support the same restaurants during this time,” he wrote. n