For one day last week, Crazy Otto’s in Canyon Country operated like a real restaurant. Then came the threatening phone call.
Co-owner Adam Finley couldn’t take the chance and went back to take-out only.
“We had one good day,” he said.
That was Saturday. Finley, 37, knew that the Valencia Crazy Otto’s, an entirely different franchise owner, had opened with inside dining, choosing to ignore county and state guidelines out of economic necessity.
“I got a family of four, and one on the way,” Finley said. “This is killing me.”
With his sales down 85%, Finley knew he had to do something, even though he said that 15% was enough to pay the bills for now. So, he tried a different approach to his Valencia counterparts.
He opened his restaurant to outside dining. Tables were at least six feet apart. Staffers wore masks and served food in to-go boxes and to-go cups. All the tables and menus were nonporous and were cleaned and disinfected after each party left.
“Even if we’re open 25% of capacity, you know how much that will help us,” he said before admitting that the outside dining was probably closer to 10% of capacity.
The staff was excited. Two customers thanked him.
And then came the phone call.
Finley said it was an anonymous person threatening to close the place if it stayed open. He didn’t know if the caller had any connection to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Services.
He also didn’t want to take any chances. On Sunday, Crazy Otto’s in Canyon Country was back doing take-out only.
It could have been worse. The county completely shut down the Valencia location the same day. A health department spokesperson said it was because the restaurant committed social-distancing violations by offering inside dining, not having the staff wear masks and not having the tables set up at least six feet apart.
The county spokesperson also said she had no report about the Canyon Country location.
Finley said he made the decision to rescind outdoor dining unilaterally. Of his other two partners, he said one took issue and one was fine with it.
But he’s still worried about the future. He wishes there were better guidelines in place, and that those guidelines would be updated faster.
“If L.A. wants to make this last until July, a lot of businesses are going to go under,” he said. “I’m worried. We’re drowning.”