Local cafe owner says restaurant closures are unfair, refuses to close after being fined

City code enforcement officials have cited three businesses since early December, after state, county and city health officials enacted a new stay-home order.

Two of those businesses, City Love Salon and Precise Barbershop, appear to have since shut down after being fined, but The Delightful Cafe in East Long Beach is advertising that its doors are still open. Its founder, Samone Keo, disagrees with the city’s health order enacted in late November that banned outdoor dining.

“I’m trying to fight for outdoor dining and it just feels like it’s unfair to pick on small mom-and-pop businesses when corporate businesses, Amazon, McDonald’s, all these drive-thrus are making a killing and places like us are getting shut down,” Keo said.

“I understand, I get that this is real, I get it,” Keo said earlier. “I know people who had it, I’m not discounting this pandemic.”

Keo isn’t alone. Restaurant owners and associations across the state have been advocating against the ban on outdoor dining, which they see as a last lifeline to avoid permanent closure. Code enforcement officials on Thursday warned the owner of Restauration in Bluff Heights not to host an illegal “NYE Dinner Countdown” on its back patio.

As cases continue to rise and local hospitals, ICUs and morgues fill up and hit disaster levels, restaurant and business owners are desperately trying not to lose their livelihoods.

Keo claimed there is “no scientific proof” that outdoor dining is the cause for the latest ongoing spike, pointing to stores like Costco and Walmart still being allowed to stay open. State health officials said when they re-banned outdoor dining that they did so because patrons aren’t required to wear masks while eating and dining out encourages people to gather with those outside their household. Retail stores require masks and are also subject to stricter occupancy restrictions. She also pointed to airplanes, where people sit near one another and unmasked when they are eating or drinking.

Her cafe sits on a quiet corner in a neighborhood in Lakewood Village. On Wednesday afternoon, two maskless women chatted as they ate on the front patio adorned with potted plants.

Keo also pointed to the lawsuit against LA County brought on by the California Restaurant Association. A judge in early December ruled in favor of the CRA, overturning the county outdoor dining ban, but that did nothing to the state’s ban, which all restaurants in California are subject to. The Long Beach health department also has its own outdoor dining ban.

While she said she would be in favor of a total shutdown, including all non-essential activity, like in March, Keo said the current order is unfair toward small business owners.

“Don’t open a mall up and shut me down,” Keo said.

City code enforcement officials fined the cafe $100 on Dec. 23 for allowing outdoor dining, officials said. Keo said code enforcement specifically fined her for allowing outdoor dining on her restaurant’s back patio, which is shared with three other businesses. She said she can’t lock up the chairs there because they aren’t hers. However, she does also have patio seating in the front of her restaurant where she also serves customers. She also believes the health orders aren’t enforceable because they aren’t codified into law.

“The Health Order is enforceable and the Venue Task Force continues to proactively visit businesses and respond to complaints of violations of the Health Order,” said city spokeswoman Jennifer Rice Epstein. “A majority of businesses have done an excellent job ensuring compliance.”

Businesses that refuse to close can be cited every day: first at $100, then $200, then $500. The city can also shut off water to the business, Rice Epstein said.

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Valerie Osier is the Social Media & Newsletter Manager for the Long Beach Post. She started at the Post in 2018 as a breaking news reporter. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from the Cal State Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two cats.