With possibility of reopening this weekend, restaurateurs offer mixed bag of emotions

Mayor Robert Garcia recently announced that Long Beach, in a partnership with Los Angeles County, would apply for the state’s “fast-track” to reopening restaurants and salons at limited capacity. Should the application be approved, these spaces can re-open as early as this weekend—but restaurateurs are mostly expressing hesitation and concern.

“I’m hesitant and I am not rushing,” said Dana Tanner of Restauration. “I am taking my time so I have everything set up successfully for my guests and team. If that means I have to close an extra day or two in between to organize and train, that is fine by me—it’s been over two months now. Another week won’t kill me at this rate.”

Tanner echoes Brenda Rivera and Luis Navarro of Lola’s/The Social List/Portuguese Bend—”It’s just not worth the safety of our employees,” Navarro said—Ryan Hughes and Martin Svab of The 4th Horseman—”Talked to some staff and I think we will be hard-pressed to get people to stay if we opened this quickly,” Hughes said—and Arthur Gonzalez of The Hideaway and Panxa.

“As a business owner, I want to open—but my my gut tells me we’re going to have another resurgence if we open to soon,” Gonazlez said. “I can say I’m ready to cook—I am so ready to cook—but in all honesty, I just don’t know.”

Though this doesn’t mean there aren’t those being optimistic: Chef Jason Witzl, fresh off his announcement of expanding his restaurant empire by moving Ellie’s to the neighborhood of Zaferia while converting its original location in Alamitos Beach into Ellie’s Deli, visited a friend’s restaurant Orange County to see what is being done.

“My friend is on the forefront of reopening safely and I felt obligated to learn from what they’re doing,” Witzl said. “They walked us through all their procedures, seating, handling… I’m excited—like, really excited—and nervous as well. Hopefully we can have Lupe’s [our downtown mariscos restaurant] open soon.”

Carl Dene, whose recent partnership with Ryan Choura of Choura Events has him looking at the way to reimagine his Naples restaurant Michael’s, says the recent open streets initiative being led by the city, which can streamline the creation of parklets and expanded dining space, will be essential to reopening.

“We know we are supposed to put a distance of 6 feet between groups—and whatever that looks like for your restaurant, it’s a limited by the amount of area or space you have,” Dene said. “Getting access to the side courtyard [for Michael’s Downtown] and the parklet in Naples means we will be able to push our tables from inside toward those areas. And then we can make it work.”

This sentiment was echoed by Bjoern Risse, owner of Rasselbock and the soon-to-open Wood & Salt, both in Bixby Knolls. While avoiding a direct endorsement or criticism of reopening, Risse emphasized that increasing our outdoor space was the key cog to solving social anxiety about reopening.

“I really like the open street plan and that’s something we definitely want to do in Bixby Knolls,” Risse said. “Use our patio, add sidewalk dining, add parklets on Atlantic Avenue—all that would be great. Slowing down traffic would help immensely too, that way we are operating the restaurant at its safest. I think using outdoor space for restaurants is the right approach.”

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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.