Opening a new restaurant during a pandemic? Why some chefs are moving forward with business
Even during ordinary times, opening a restaurant is a harrowing ordeal — a stressful whirlwind of inspections, permitting, trainings and test runs.
Now, with many restaurants shut down completely, launching a new business seems illogical if not downright insane.
Still, a few restaurants have forged ahead, opening their doors at a time when customers can’t even dine inside. The decision was reached after a lot of deliberation and strife, owners and chefs say, with all of them grappling between providing for their employees and community, and acting in the interest of public safety.
Tacos 1986 Beverly
“It’s the worst time in the history of the world to be opening a restaurant,” said Victor Delgado, co-owner of Tacos 1986, the Tijuana-style taco spot that opened its third location along Beverly Boulevard on Wednesday. “When I posted on Instagram that we were opening, everyone thought it was an April Fool’s joke.”
Delgado said the newest branch of Tacos 1986 had been ready to open for almost a month; he had a grand opening date of March 26 circled on his calendar. But once the shutdown happened, he and co-owner Jorge Alvarez-Tostado considered delaying the opening until June.
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But Delgado said he’d forgotten to take down a “Now Hiring” banner outside the restaurant, which led to his inbox being swamped by applicants.
“It made me realize that people are desperate right now and need work,” he said. “A lot of them can’t wait for whenever the check from the government is supposed to arrive.”
After taking a vote among Taco 1986’s employees, and assuring anyone who preferred to stay home that their jobs would be waiting for them when they felt safe to return, Delgado said he believed he was making the correct decision.
“I still worry about it every day, but I know we’re creating jobs and offering an affordable meal,” he said.
7235 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, tacos1986.com
Good and Nice
Months before the pandemic reached L.A., Henry Molina and Margaret Stanton had planned to open Good and Nice, a Silver Lake restaurant offering modern Sichuan cooking and hand-pulled noodles paired with low-intervention natural wines. Molina had been the pastry chef at NoMad in Los Angeles and worked at Eleven Madison Park and Mission Chinese Food in New York; Stanton previously worked as a general manager at Botanica and Night + Market Song.
The closure of dining rooms across the state has put their full-service restaurant plans on hold. But on Wednesday, they began offering dinner takeout and delivery, cooking out of Gingergrass restaurant in Silver Lake.
“It’s a way to test the concept, see how it goes. We’ve altered our plans in a way that we hope benefits the community,” Stanton said.
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The menu at Good and Nice includes shrimp wonton, mapo tofu, fried rice, mushroom dan dan noodles and a selection of wines. Molina and Stanton said they live together and are the pop-up’s only workers, so they feel there’s less risk of outside exposure.
“It’s literally just the two of us,” Molina said. Good and Nice, which has curbside pickup and delivery, is donating 10% of its revenue to the L.A. Food Bank; customers also can order “kitchen beers” that help support restaurant worker relief funds.
“It’s not the best situation, but we feel lucky we’re in a unique position that we’re able to do something,” Stanton said. “Customers have been really supportive so far.”
2396 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, goodandnicela.com
After a Clueless pop-up restaurant he was slated to run fell through last month, Royce Burke found himself with a large unused kitchen space in West Hollywood. With help from Maude sommelier Andrey Tolmachyov, Burke decided to relaunch his delivery lasagna concept, Secret Lasagna, which originally opened in Chinatown in 2017.
“I’m an illogical person,” Burke said, comparing his business model to running into a burning building while everyone else was running out. “This thing isn’t going to be over for a long time and we have to figure out how to survive.”
Secret Lasagna is offering a few varieties of lasagna, salads and sides for delivery and pickup, plus a collection of pantry goods, including some items by local chefs.
Burke said his kitchen is taking precautions with physical distancing and protective gear. He’s even making food deliveries himself — last night he dropped off lasagna to a customer in Studio City.
“I designed Secret Lasagna for takeout and delivery three years ago and I had no idea it could be a springboard for what we’re doing now,” Burke said. “People still have to eat, and by doing delivery we’re helping them stay home.”
7100 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 850-2355, secretlasagna.com
A few days before the city implemented its first restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, Tezeta Alemayehu had signed a new lease at Colony Kitchen, a food hall and commercial kitchen space in West L.A. Her plans were to expand her vegan Ethiopian food concept, T&T Lifestyle, which has previously appeared as a weekly vendor at Smorgasburg, into a takeout restaurant.
“I was so close to opening my dream kitchen and then the next day, everything was shut down,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”
After two weeks of deliberation — Alemayehu’s husband is an emergency room nurse who has seen the effect of the virus firsthand — she decided to open, tentatively, in part because many of her customers had reached out in support.
“I’ll see how it goes,” she said. “We have to protect ourselves and do our part to get through this, which for me means helping feed others.”
Starting April 15, T&T Lifestyle will offer a vegan superfood combo, Ethiopian tacos and baked goods for delivery or pickup via a drive-thru window.
11419 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 699-8642, instagram.com/tandtlifestyle
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