The pandemic has devastated the restaurant industry, but restaurateurs are eagerly awaiting reopening. | Eat + Drink – Monterey County Weekly NOW

Going to your usual place for a drink or a meal has been a challenge over the past year, with rules changing and then changing again – first it was take-out only, then eat-in indoors were OK, then al fresco dining only, then no bars, then take-out only again – and from March 17 restaurants can serve indoors again, to a maximum capacity of 25 %. No version of this ever-changing regulatory landscape has been easy, as cafes, bakeries and restaurants struggle every day to survive the Covid-19 pandemic. Some spots have closed permanently; many have closed temporarily, waiting for when they can do more business.

All this makes for a confusing landscape for restaurateurs and for customers. “It’s hard to know what’s open and what’s not,” says Marina resident Laura Foss. Since starting shelter-in-place, she hasn’t been out much, relying more on takeout. She found reservations hard to come by, with limited space for outdoor dining.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry is the sector hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of sales and job losses. From March to December 2020, the industry lost $240 billion in sales and more than 8 million workers lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently.

Locally, places old and new have closed for good. Some of their reasons are the downturn of the pandemic, others had different challenges, but all exacerbated by the inability to function at normal income levels. The list of closures includes Bull and Bear, Cafe Lumiere and Cult Taco and Aabha Indian Grill in Monterey (Aabha’s Carmel location remains open); Holly’s Lighthouse Cafe and Crema in Pacific Grove; Makkah Deli at Marina; Hot Steam Coffee at Moss Landing; il Grillo, USA and Carmel Beach Grill in Carmel. “Last year of devastation from Covid-19 has taken too much of a toll on our new operation,” Cult Taco announced on March 1.

But some who thought they were closed for good might start again. Epsilon, a family-run Greek restaurant in Monterey, closed in October and owner Christos Hix filed for bankruptcy. The business has been in his family since 1991, and its owner offered reduced rent for a few months – and Hix decided to launch a GoFundMe campaign on January 28. As of March 15, she has raised $15,859 from more than 100 donors. With what little savings he has, Hix is ​​about to reopen.

Foss always ordered the same dish from Epsilon: a braised lamb shank with a base of tomato sauce. But it was above all an atmosphere that made her come back. “The people who worked there were very friendly, making you feel like part of the family,” she says. “It’s nice to have a restaurant where people care.”

Bethany Rhoads is a nurse who enjoys supporting the local economy and eating sustainably. One of the places she can’t wait to go back to is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, not just to see animals, but for food from their restaurant. For her, “it’s an immersive experience of sustainability,” noting the seasonal, plant-based menu. His favorite was a vegan dish: bang bang “shrimp”. “You bite into it and it really feels like you’re eating shrimp, and it’s all plant-based,” says Rhoads. (The Aquarium plans to reopen for general admission in May; it has been closed since March 12, 2020.)

Despite the list of permanent and temporary closures, new restaurants have also opened during the pandemic and have yet to experience indoor dining.

At Babaloo Cuban Cafe in Seaside, which only opened on April 6, 2020, owner Gladys Parada hopes to get busier. She adds that because it was not in operation before the pandemic, the company was not eligible for PPP funds.

“Sometimes I didn’t know how the hell I was going to pay the next bill,” Parada says. “That Babaloo is open is a miracle of the universe.”

At Epsilon, Hix and her family cleaned up and had their fridge and freezer repaired.

Hix is ​​thrilled to reopen the family business. He plans to start by bringing back dishes they’re known for, like chicken skewer salad, grilled octopus and lamb shanks.

“I’m going to start small when it comes to the menu,” says Hix. “It’ll just be me and my family to get us going.”

When Foss heard Epsilon was preparing to reopen, she was thrilled – and says next time she eats there she’ll try a different dish.

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Cecil N. Messick