City searches for answers to keep restaurants-as-markets alive

Restaurants turning into neighborhood shops has become part of Long Beach’s new normal. Restaurateurs, using their ability to buy in bulk, sold those goods to shoppers who avoided major supermarket crowds while supporting small businesses. But that may all end.

Following an order from the County of Los Angeles prohibiting restaurants to act as grocers, Dr. Anissa Davis of the city’s health department said Long Beach would be aligning itself with L.A.’s prohibition.

“We feel these next few weeks are really crucial to blunt the virus so we are going to be in alignment with L.A. County,” Davis said at an afternoon press briefing.

That, however, has not ended the conversation. Mayor Robert Garcia responded that he was searching for ways to figure out how to make the current situation work.

“We’ve been discussing with both restaurant owners and the health department to find a way to make this work safely while still upholding public health,” Garcia said.

Hours after Davis and Garcia’s comments, city officials tried to further clarify by saying they were still studying the issue.

“Yes, we have been aligning with the county to allow for consistency,” Kelly Colopy, the city’s health director, said. “While the County Department of Public Health has chosen to not allow bodegas, we felt that we had not taken the time to look at the differences between adamantly imposing a closure of the bodegas and otherwise. Within our statement that we would be aligned, we’re going to step back in the case and examine possibilities given that we license differently than the county.”

As of now, according to multiple restaurant owners, there have been no formal shutdowns of these restaurants-as-markets, but they’re worried about what comes next.

“We are all bracing,” said Luis Navarro, owner of Lola’s, The Social List, and Portuguese Bend. “It will be another blow to the gut for a lot of us if they were to shut down our bulk offerings.”

Acting City Manager Tom Modica said Long Beach can’t guarantee the bodegas will stay open for any amount of time, but, they will “as of now, not be shut down immediately.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated with information from Modica and Colopy.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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