Days before the governor released guidelines for reopening in-room restaurant dining, Jonathan Carrillo finally had enough and opened his Crazy Otto’s location, rules be damned.
Simply put, it was a matter of economics.
“To be honest, we got families to feed, and we got employees with families to feed,” Carrillo said Monday, the day before Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined a detailed plan. “We’re losing money every day we’re closed. Our business is sit-down, not drive-through.”
One woman who dined there said, “It was so nice to be able to walk into a restaurant and sit down at a table and have a meal.”
The mayor, however, said any restaurant that’s accepting inside dining is violating city and county orders and might be cited. But he stopped short of saying he would report the restaurant; the city has no role in enforcement, he said. In fact, the City Council plans to send a letter to the county objecting to the plans to extend stay-at-home orders until July 31.
“What is going to cause significant conflict is when you have a state Department of Public Health, and each individual county has the option of accepting (the guidelines),” Mayor Cameron Smyth said, referring to Newsom saying counties that have met certain state benchmarks can have more businesses, such as restaurants, reopen.
“Many business owners who want to open responsibly will in all likelihood open under stand guidelines thinking they’re compliant despite county regulations saying no,” Smyth said.
No restaurants in Los Angeles County have been approved to open for dining-in service.
“They are putting their licenses at risk,” Smyth said. “I would certainly encourage businesses to comply with state and county laws and regulations.”
The Valencia Crazy Otto’s on Wayne Mills Drive completely reopened last weekend after being opened for take-out only Fridays through Sundays since March because there wasn’t enough business during the week. Carrillo estimated the pandemic has cost him 90 percent of sales.
Carrillo said he isn’t advertising the reopening but instead is relying on word of mouth. The hours also have been shortened. The restaurant is now open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., but the full reopening has resulted in hiring back five of the 15 staff members, he said.
“Hope the community supports us,” he said. “There’s folks in the community who are tired of it and want to get back to normal.”
Sharon Ventrice, who with husband Bob dined there, said she is “so tired of this stay-at-home stuff. I get it, people are getting sick, people are dying. Somewhere along the way, it’s got to return to it being our choice.”
On Tuesday, Newsom unveiled an 85-point plan for restaurants to reopen. It requires each restaurant have a written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plan, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, and designate a person to implement the plan and train employees on it.
It also mandates physical distancing to the maximum extent possible, having all employees cover their faces and frequently wash hands and having the facility regularly cleaned and disinfected.
Since Carrillo and partner Brian Hernandez opened before these guidelines came out, it remains to be seen how many of them can, or will, be implemented. Carrillo said dining parties are being kept at a distance, employees are wearing masks or bandanas, and he hired professional cleaners to disinfect the restaurant.
“We want to make sure that everyone still feels safe. If not, we still offer to-go,” he said. “It’s up to the customers.”
Ventrice said the tables were set up and did not appear to be farther apart than during pre-COVID times. The booths were open and parties sat at adjacent booths, but she said it appeared most people tried to sit apart from fellow diners, although no one said they had to.
The staff did not wear masks (“Oh, God, it was so nice,” Ventrice said), and the workers wiped down the tables even as the diners sat there.
“People are really, really tired of being stuck at home,” Ventrice said. “Bob and I enjoyed a meal out. For us, it was really exciting.”
Smyth said he wasn’t aware the restaurant was open until the Gazette called. “I assume that, since this will be in the media, county health officials will be made aware,” he said.
Carrillo it’s time to reopen because he can’t afford not to. As a first-year operation, there are costs that need to be paid. He hopes he can make it through the week.
“If the county or if the governor is going to give me a loan, I’m all for it (staying closed),” he said. “I’ve followed it long enough. That’s our personal opinion. We’re going down that path. … Hopefully the community responds and we can continue.”