Before the pandemic, Brandon Ogborn had been working as a server at the beloved Retro Row cafe Restauration. So he had a front-row view when his boss, Dana Tanner, became an overnight villain in Long Beach for refusing to shut down her business (even going as far as using an illegally tapped gas line) while hospitals were facing the very real threat of being overrun by COVID-19 patients.

Stuck at home with his kids, Ogborn turned down Tanner’s invitation to come work at Restauration while it was open illegally. A writer and podcaster, Ogborn instead decided to film the whole thing in a comedy documentary called “Damn, Dana!”

The 46-minute film playfully chronicles the downfall of Tanner’s rebel restaurant but also tricks you into considering some deep issues about the pandemic, the sensibility of lockdown orders, and the intense—sometimes ridiculous—backlash they garnered.

The film was released for free on YouTube on March 19. Ogborn sat down for a Q&A with the Hi-lo a few days later. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Jeremiah Dobruck: The first thing I wanted to ask about was the tone. The documentary makes fun of everybody. Why did you go with that jokey tone? And has anybody—like maybe Dana—been upset about that?

Brandon Ogborn: So when I started work on “Damn, Dana!” I thought it was just going to be a 10-minute short. And I didn’t really put myself in it. And then someone was like, you know, in the interest of full disclosure, you have to say you worked there, so then I kind of put a little bit of myself in. And I made a joke here, and there. The sequences that I’m in create kind of a palate cleanser. And it’s like, nice to laugh in it. So then I just kind of did it a little more and more.

And at the same time, people were really cottoning to my Instagram presence of just making fun of my kids, making fun of myself during the pandemic. So I was just like, maybe I just make a not-so-serious version of this. And, yeah, Dana actually loves it. And she thinks it’s hysterical.

There’s definitely parts that break her heart. She told me, she wasn’t aware that some of the employees felt that way—like they were being forced to work and stuff. So, I think that more than anything hurt her feelings. Because she was really burning the candle at both ends during the pandemic, obviously, right or wrong.

The only people I’ve seen that don’t get it are some of the people in the comments who are kind of like, this guy didn’t check his white privilege. How dare he spend all this money on cosmetic surgeries? He’s so mean about Long Beach. He’s so bitter. And it’s kind of like, I don’t think they get that I’m like being so sarcastic and dry. And, obviously, I love this city.

JD: What was Dana like as a boss?

BO: I’ll try to be careful because we’re still friendly. I was there for years, for years and years. So I saw a lot of ups and downs.

It wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to be like, “Hey, you need to communicate better.” Because sometimes you would show up to work and you’d just have no idea what you’re getting into. There’d be no host. Sometimes there wouldn’t be a manager. There’d be a wedding party that she didn’t communicate was happening during service. And there wouldn’t be a menu laid out yet or anything. So there was always a lot of tension with the kitchen.

Sometimes things went smoothly, but it was chaos. It was total chaos. She was kind of doing this thing as a single mom. She got divorced in the midst of it. She had two kids one with special needs that she was always trying to handle. She was a whirlwind, and the place was a whirlwind.

JD: I don’t think you were soft on her in the documentary, but you kind of get the sense from it that you also kind of like her.

BO: I think it may violate some journalistic standards, but I do like her. I definitely have a lot of problems with the way she did things and problems with sometimes how she would be as a boss. But she was a good person. And I think she is a good person.

I think I portray myself pretty good as a self-entitled asshole in the documentary. And I think I am. But I think with Dana, I was trying to portray how people can be two things.

They can be political poison and doing something you completely disagree with, it seems out for profit, but in their mind, they’re doing it for the personal needs of their staff, and they so disagree politically with what’s going on.

She was like, “I know, people that are nurses.” And I was like, “Well, my wife’s a nurse. And she had to wait in line to bring a dead baby to the morgue from the labor floor because that’s how much they’re backed up from COVID.”

But there can be that division, but also to be like, “I really do love this person. I just think they’re being an idiot.”

JD: I enjoyed this because of those nuances. And I learned a lot of things about Dana and behind-the-scenes stuff about just how PR-conscious the city was when it was cracking down on her. I’m going to use some stupid buzzwords here that weren’t anywhere in the movie, but did you stumble into making this nuanced documentary about online tribalism and cancel culture or is that something you set out to do?

BO: No, I totally stumbled into it. I really thought that it was just going to be like a five-minute “This American Life” small-town, big-town battle. Here’s this wacky lady and some of her dingdong employees, including me. But I think it just kind of grew.

JD: Do you think Dana got what she deserved?

BO: I don’t think I could really answer that. I think everything’s subjective now. She went through the justice system. She still may not be off completely scot-free. Her case was so convoluted, I don’t even understand it now.

Being on the other side of the pandemic, now, I think everybody just kind of wants it to be over. You know, this isn’t the Holocaust. These aren’t the Nuremberg trials where people were literally part of bringing people to death camps. Everybody was kind of doing the best they could to survive. I think it would have been different if there could have been proof of like, your restaurant killed these people. So it’s all theory.

I still feel like an asshole because I remember the first days of the pandemic when we were down at the Colorado Lagoon, and, you know that bridge you cross that only two people can fit on? And people were kind of waiting for someone to completely cross that very long bridge because COVID was new and everybody was terrified. And this one guy walked across while we were crossing with our stroller with our masks, and he just walked by. And we were just like, “This is the most shocking thing. Can you believe this guy? Not even f—ing waiting.” And now, if I go to the grocery store, and I see someone with a mask, “I’m like, what a f—ing loser. You f—ing weenie.”

It’s so subjective, that for anybody to think that they know anything is ridiculous.

I think everybody tried to do their best, but I also think nobody knows anything.

Judge drops $5,000 penalty for restaurant owner who defied COVID rules

Jeremiah Dobruck is managing editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter.