Newsletter: A front-row look at how coronavirus has wrecked restaurants

Celia Ward-Wallace, left, brings a takeout order to Sandra Flores at South LA Cafe
Celia Ward-Wallace, left, brings a takeout order to Sandra Flores at South LA Cafe. The business is suffering, like so many other restaurants in Southern California, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, April 6. I’m Gustavo Arellano, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Orange County.

For the record:

11:40 p.m. April 5, 2021Dolores Huerta’s birthdate is April 10, 1930, not April 10, 1939, as an item in this newsletter incorrectly states.

On a typical weekend, Alta Baja Market in downtown Santa Ana hums with activity.

Shoppers load up on the store’s selection of heirloom beans, locally made hot sauces, and Mexican wines and craft beers. Families dine in to enjoy owner Delilah Snell’s eclectic menu of Southwestern-inspired sandwiches, salads and blue corn chile cheesecakes. Daytime drinkers enjoy Delilah’s inventive micheladas (Mexican-style beer cocktails), which range in flavors from coconut to chile mango.

But this last weekend, Alta Baja was empty, one of Southern California’s many restaurants barely hanging on in the era of coronavirus.

[Read the story: Unhappiest hour: What the coronavirus shutdown has meant for two L.A. bars]

I have a front-row seat to Alta Baja’s troubles: Delilah is my wife.


I’m now her cashier and dishwasher, duties I fulfill in between interviewing people for my L.A. Times stories from the store’s closet, where I type on my computer that sits among Cambros and colanders.

It’s one thing to report on the seismic shifts in life that the pandemic has wrought on the world. But it’s quite another to see the coronavirus crisis play out in front of you, as it affects your own life and that of your significant other.

As the kids say, it’s real.

I’ve seen my wife’s daily tally plummet, to the point where she has had to lay off all her workers and enlist me as a backup (quick aside: I’d rather get yelled at by an irate subject than scrub down sheet pans).

I’ve seen Delilah tell her suppliers — bakers, wholesale produce distributors, laundry companies — that she doesn’t need their services as much anymore, and seen those companies beg for some business, any business.

I’ve seen Alta Baja’s regulars — who love Delilah’s mercadito for her good food but also for her personal touch — vow to support my wife, but slowly disappear as financial reality hits them.

And we’re one of the lucky ones: At least Alta Baja remains open. Nearly all the other storefronts on 4th Street — long a hub of activity for Latinos but weathering gentrification in recent years — are closed for the foreseeable future.


It’s a story playing out across small businesses in Southern California. But I’d argue the economic effects of California’s stay-at-home orders hit nowhere harder than in restaurants, where we all gather to eat and drink and forget about our precariously situated lives for an hour or so.

And now, we have them only in the form of takeout, which Alta Baja offers. But what Delilah makes off of that doesn’t even come close to paying the rent.

Take the advice of my colleagues, Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega: Support your local restaurants with a takeout order. Here’s Bill’s recommendation for 20 great Mexican spots that deliver. Consider Patricia’s five things you can do to help L.A. restaurants.

And be ready to hear more stories like that of Alta Baja, not just from my colleagues but also myself: I’ll be debuting a podcast this Wednesday called “Coronavirus in California: Stories from the Front Lines.” Details to come...

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


South L.A.’s renaissance was decades in the making. The coronavirus could end it in weeks: From coffee shops to shared workspaces to neo-soul cafés, black-owned businesses from Leimert Park to Inglewood to Slauson are in a particularly precarious economic situation. Los Angeles Times


L.A. has a coronavirus eviction ban, but landlords are finding ways to demand rent: Where’s Mr. Furley when you need him ... Los Angeles Times

After President Trump tweeted that he’d be “tuning in,” a SoCal megachurch pastor told worshipers to stay home: Harvest Christian Fellowship Pastor Greg Laurie — who also runs the annual SoCal Harvest crusade at Angel Stadium of Anaheim every summer — cites Matthew 18:20 in urging Christians to stay home during Holy Week. Los Angeles Times

This Thousand Oaks councilman, a pastor, resigned and said he would defy stay-at-home orders from Ventura County and the state: Rob McCoy sets aside his political career and Mathew 18:20 (“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”) to offer Communion to Christians. Los Angeles Times

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The coronavirus border closure keeps immigrants from seeing families: The closure of the U.S.-Mexico border to nonessential travel has cut off many Mexicans and Mexican Americans from relatives and home. CalMatters

Foreign doctors on the front lines of COVID-19 fear deportation from U.S.: Because la migra doesn’t stop, you know? Los Angeles Times


California-Mexico ports of entry will limit hours to reduce the spread of COVID-19: If you’re coming in from Tecate, beware. Border Report


‘Hardest, saddest’ days ahead in coronavirus outbreak, surgeon general warns: Jerome Adams likened the projected loss of life to “our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment.” Los Angeles Times

The coronavirus is America’s common enemy, but the states aren’t fighting as a team: Govs. Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo, meet Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Los Angeles Times

A retirement community is protesting an O.C. plan to house homeless people with the coronavirus at hotel: Laguna Woods Village residents participate in Orange County’s favorite parlor game: Keep the homeless away from city limits. Los Angeles Times

A Laguna Woods Village senior protests after learning nearby Ayres Hotel will be used to treat homeless COVID-19 patients
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A captain’s choice: Brett Crozier — who was removed as captain of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and has just tested positive for coronavirus — chose his crew over his career. His decision surprised no one who knows him. San Francisco Chronicle



California courts eye dramatic new steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus: Judicial leaders are expected to adopt a statewide emergency order setting bail at zero for misdemeanor and lower-level felony offenses. Los Angeles Times

Cut off from their kids, parents of juvenile detainees wait and worry as the coronavirus spreads: The situation in juvenile halls is a microcosm of the broader struggle across the country to balance public safety against public health. Los Angeles Times


How a discovery that brought us Viagra could help those battling the coronavirus: Can the science behind the blue pill save us once more? Los Angeles Times

Calls to a suicide hotline over the coronavirus skyrocket. Counselors feel the pain: At Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a Century City-based nonprofit organization, crisis counselors fielded more than 1,800 calls related to COVID-19 in March, versus just 20 in February. Los Angeles Times

When it comes to the coronavirus, she’s L.A.’s version of Dr. Fauci: Columnist Steve Lopez talks to L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, who’s destined to become the Lucy Jones of this pandemic. Los Angeles Times

On Union Station and the bubonic plague: USC history professor William Deverell delves into L.A.’s sordid past of demonizing Mexicans and Chinese residents during outbreaks. Alta Journal



And now, a dispatch from a Hollywood water stuntwoman: A longtime pro talks about the beauty and difficulty of her trade. (Spoiler: The Wayans Brothers are a bit too fond of mechanical sharks.) Hakai Magazine

Meet the professor teaching a college course on Selena and her legacy: When all this disease desmadre is done, let’s all audit San Diego State professor Nathian Shae Rodriguez’s class on the legendary Tejana singer. Texas Monthly

Missing live music while staying at home? Visalia’s Rudy Parris has you covered: The current lead singer for the Buckaroos is doing Facebook Live concerts on weekends. (I’m going to request “Act Naturally” and “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass.”) Visalia Times Delta

Somewhere, John Muir is applauding: You may never see Yosemite like this again, as this video peeks into the valley, without humans. Sacramento Bee


Los Angeles: rain, 62. San Diego: rain, 63. San Francisco: rain, 52. San Jose: rain, 53. Fresno: rain, 61. Sacramento: rain, 59. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Former Gov. Jerry Brown (April 7, 1938), filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (April 7, 1939) and labor leader Dolores Huerta (April 10, 1939).

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)


Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.