ARTESIA, California – As 2021 draws to a close, for Rishi Patel it’s back to square one.
“We are the same place we were last year – closed,” said Patel, co-owner of Dip Shabu Shabu, a restaurant in Artesia. “I was closed at the beginning of the year. Now I’m temporarily closed at the end of the year.”
Patel is not the only restaurateur to close the doors – again – as the more portable omicron variant sweeps across the South.
In Los Alamitos, Original Fish Co. located earlier in the week a sign on their door saying it had to close Tuesday and Wednesday “due to COVID uncertainty, disinfection and testing.” According to their website, the restaurant also plans to close on New Year’s Day and the day after – usually one of the busiest times of the new year. The owner of the original Fish Co. did not return a Spectrum News request for comment from the time of press release.
The park’s finest in Echo Park is also temporarily closed. After feeding the front lines for most of the year, the Filipino grill restaurant reopened its storefront three days a week in September, only to deal with unruly customer behavior, labor shortages and all the other challenges of the global pandemic.
“We are tired, worn out and afraid of the constant threat of exposure and the extra burden of testing, retesting, isolating, meeting gaps in the schedule and explaining to staff and guests about our current circumstances,” Concordia said on The Park’s Finests Instagram page . “So we stop to take a break, regroup and try again in 2022. We wish you all a safe and happy holiday.”
Concordia did not return a Spectrum News text message for further comment from the press time.
For many restaurateurs in Southern California, 2021 has been filled with one accident after another and feels like the movie “Groundhog Day,” except it lasts all year.
The recent omicron rise and staff shortages are another challenge that restaurateurs face as they close the year.
And in many ways, the variant emerging during the busiest time of the year is a sign of the industry’s frustrating situation in 2021, as they all continue to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and pandemic-related restrictions.
“We try to roll with the blows, but it does not stop,” Patel said.
The year started with many restaurants and other shops closing. In December 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom, who followed the state’s now defunct color-coded system that tracks COVID-19 cases, issued a state-wide stay-at-home order due to rising infection rates.
Restaurants and indoor areas had to close their doors or limit customer capacity and fire staff until they were allowed to reopen.
It only happened at the end of January, and even when restaurants were allowed to reopen, it only had to be a terrace and outdoor seating.
As things developed downward, indoor dining returned in March, but with capacity constraints depending on the color of the county at the COVID-19 risk level.
As the year went on, Orange County placed fewer restrictions on restaurants. Meanwhile, their neighbor in Los Angeles set strict COVID-related mandates, including requiring proof of vaccination before dining indoors.
Justin McMahon, a vice president at JLL, which specializes in retail leasing and restaurants, said 2021 had been a trying year for many restaurateurs in Southern California, especially in Los Angeles, where there were several COVID-related restrictions in place and the central business district was hammered due to fewer people entering the offices.
Orange County restaurants did better with fewer restrictions.
Yet what 2021 showed, McMahon said, is that people want to go out and eat and spend money despite the pandemic.
“The main problems restaurants faced this year were not due to lack of demand,” McMahon said. “Demand is there for the most part unless they were too dependent on customers from the business district.”
McMahon said many of his restaurant customers’ biggest concerns were staff, but adds the possibility of infection and their situation got worse.
“Manning is a nightmare,” McMahon added. “It was a nightmare before the pandemic, and there are a million reasons for that, but now you get someone to test positive, then you have to take them out of their guard, find out who was exposed, and close contact. It’s crazy. “
But one thing that stood out for McMahon in 2021 was the resilience of restaurant owners.
“Those who stuck it out thrived because they found out,” he said. “Some restaurateurs dedicated to take-away, online ordering, made sure staff were healthy, and they improved cleaning and masking. They did the best they could to accommodate customers and skewed all the different mandates.”
McMahon is optimistic that restaurateurs will do better in 2022.
“People are adapting and learning to live in this pandemic environment,” he said. “In my opinion, you will see consumers come back and resume normal activities. I think the worst of this is over.”
For Patel, the owner of a shabu shabu restaurant, 2021 has become increasingly difficult as the year went on, despite receiving business subsidies and money from the government’s wage insurance program.
Not only has he dealt with LA’s COVID-related business restrictions and labor shortages, but also inflation. Expenditure on meat and vegetable products has increased “by 100%.”
“We used to have a lunch and dinner menu with different price levels,” Patel said. “Now we only have dinner prices. Next year I’ll probably raise the prices and I hate it. I do not want to overprice my customers.”
He also found during this time that a small number of customers were not as friendly as they were before.
“We’ve had bad customers since we reopened,” he said. “It’s like the situation with stewardesses. Fortunately, it has not gone there. [physical altercation] level, but we’ve had one guy go out and get others [complaining]. “
When one of his employees was notified to be in close contact with a friend who tested positive for COVID earlier this week, Patel closed the restaurant and got all his employees to take a test.
His team was okay, but he wanted to take precautions despite the fact that this time of year was the busiest for his restaurant.
“In a way, it’s an oxymoron,” he said. “It’s a bad thing for our staff to be dependent on a paycheck, but it’s also good because so many of them are burnt out. We do not have many employees. They work really hard.”
Patel hoped customers understood why he had to close or cut hours temporarily this week.
Last year, the government closed restaurants to protect the public and limit the spread of coronavirus. Now Patel is left to protect its customers and staff. Patel does not anticipate the government shutting things down again.
He plans to reopen his restaurant with limited opening hours over the New Year weekend and go with the flow thereafter.
“I hope they understand,” Patel said. “These are tough times. We have to adapt.”