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'It's Chaos': Recovering CA Restaurants Hit with Devastating New Lockdown Orders

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Homayoun Dariyani was training servers and cooks for his soon-to-open gourmet hamburger grill in March when California abruptly shut down dine-in restaurants.

After a three-month delay, Dariyani held the grand opening for Slater’s 50/50 on June 18 after the state allowed restaurants to operate with limited capacity. It would be a brief reprieve.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday shuttered indoor dining for at least three weeks across much of the nation’s most populated state.

The sudden reversal, less than two weeks after Dariyani opened the doors of his restaurant in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita, left him stunned and in a financial fix.

He had stockpiled fresh beef and produce for a busy Fourth of July weekend, which now could turn into a five-figure loss.

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He’s struggling — again — to keep 60 workers on the payroll with nearly 300 seats inside his restaurant empty. He has a takeout window and room for 80 on his patios, where customers are allowed to eat outdoors.

The latest order “is a huge step back for all the restaurants,” according to Dariyani, who also runs a catering business. “It’s not fair to anybody.”

The coronavirus lockdowns have left millions unemployed, but few businesses have been hit as hard as California’s estimated 90,000 restaurants.

Industry experts predict that as many as one-third of them will never reopen, while others are trying to navigate a maze of new sanitation rules and physical-distancing guidelines that have gutted seating charts and boosted in-house costs.

Will the restaurant industry be able to recover from lockdown?

“It’s chaos,” Jot Condi, head of the California Restaurant Association, said.

The governor also shuttered bars, movie theaters, museums and other indoor venues in most of the state. Even singing in churches is forbidden.

The latest order was especially painful for those in the restaurant industry who believed they did everything right, investing heavily in staff training and gloves, masks and other supplies to meet health restrictions.

At critically acclaimed Guerrilla Tacos in Los Angeles, owner Wes Avila had just reopened Wednesday after two weeks of employee training. Now, like Dariyani, he has to start from scratch.

“There’s not like a consultant you can hire to fix this,” Avila said.

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When the pandemic began, Avila was forced to downsize from more than 50 employees to four and shift to takeout and delivery.

When he reopened as a sit-down restaurant, he brought back employees and even hired new ones, going up to 46 people.

Now, he’s worried he’ll have to halve his staff after Newsom blocked indoor dining in 19 counties.

Even with capacity limited to 60 percent, business had been brisk for Dariyani during his brief run with indoor dining.

He faulted the state for moving too fast to reopen businesses, then ordering them to reverse course with no warning.

Can he make it financially with his indoor dining room closed?

“Definitely not,” Dariyani said. But he intends to try. “What is the other option?”


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