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As curfews continue, struggling restaurants dealt an additional blow

A sign in West Hollywood flashes curfew warnings
As a sign flashes curfew warnings, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and the California National Guard block Santa Monica Boulevard at La Brea Avenue leading into West Hollywood on Tuesday.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles is facing another 6 p.m. curfew Tuesday in the wake of widespread protests that began last week against the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

For local restaurants, already reeling from more than two months of takeout-only during the COVID-19 pandemic, the curfews — in place since Saturday citywide and Sunday countywide — have further complicated attempts to fully reopen.

“It’s a mess, it’s totally confusing,” said Jesus Lezama, the manager of Versailles Cuban Food in Palms. “We have as little information as the customers do.”

In some cases over the weekend, the curfews were issued only a few hours in advance, leaving restaurant owners scrambling to adjust plans and inform staff.

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Some restaurants chose to close earlier than the curfew cutoff to allow employees and customers to get home. But many others — including Guelaguetza, Apple Pan and most locations of the salad chain Sweetgreen — closed for the entire day.

“All our shops will be closed again, Tuesday, June 2,” the coffee shop Go Get Em Tiger posted to Instagram. “Please support one of L.A.’s great black owned coffee shops.”

Adding to the confusion, cities such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Culver City implemented even earlier curfews, which superseded countywide orders.

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Lezama said Versailles, typically open until 10 p.m., had been closing at 5:30 p.m. in accordance with the city’s curfew. But because the restaurant sits on the border with Culver City — home to a 4 p.m. curfew — many customers assumed the restaurant had closed earlier, which further hurt sales.

“It makes it so much harder for us, the uncertainty,” Lezama said. “We already lost 80% of our business [during the coronavirus shutdown], and now it’s going lower each day.”

He had planned to open Versailles for dine-in seating on Wednesday; now, because of the curfew, he’s pushed the reopening to next week.

Although most restaurants have closed by the start of each evening’s curfew, some, such as large fast-food chains, have maintained normal, or close to normal, hours.

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An employee at a Domino’s Pizza in Venice said the pizzeria was open until 1 a.m. for delivery and pickup. At a McDonald’s in Torrance, the drive-through and lobby were both open 24 hours, though an employee at a nearby 24-hour location said the restaurant’s dining room would close at 7 p.m.

Los Angeles County officials imposed a countywide curfew for the third consecutive day Tuesday, citing a desire to protect public safety amid ongoing protests. Some cities implemented even stricter limits.

Other chains varied in their plans, seemingly determined by franchise operators. A Taco Bell in Hollywood closed at 4 p.m.; a location in West L.A. closed for the day.

Major food delivery platforms such as DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates and Uber Eats switched off their services at night to comply with local curfew orders.

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Although the curfew exempts those “traveling to and from work,” some restaurant workers have expressed concern over being stopped by police on their way home.

At Versailles, Lezama said he had been letting employees leave earlier if needed, especially those dependent on public transit.

Tirsa Nevarez of Tirsa’s Mexican Cafe, near Grand Park and City Hall, closed her restaurant on Sunday after employees voiced safety concerns about working near the downtown protests.

“My employees and I are really united. They tell me if they don’t feel safe and don’t want to work,” Nevarez said.

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Closing the restaurant is not a decision any business owner takes lightly, she said.

“I have mostly women employed, and they are currently the only ones with jobs in their family,” she said. “All of their husbands have lost their various jobs. They are supporting their households right now.”

Tirsa’s is usually busiest in the evenings, so the curfews are having a significant effect on her restaurant’s bottom line.

“Our employees have lost another shift,” Nevarez said. “These things hurt.”

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Keeping up with curfew mandates has been one more curveball in what she describes as a “COVID whirlwind of chaos.”

But she added it’s a small inconvenience in light of a larger purpose.

“We stand with the movement. We want to give them the space to be heard right now,” she said. “We’re just trying to navigate our daily lives with the movement.”

Ria Barbosa, chef-owner of Petite Peso on West 7th Street downtown, said she’s making decisions day by day. During protests on Friday, the windows at Petite Peso were shattered, amounting to about $350 worth of damage, Barbosa said.

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On Tuesday morning, she gathered her restaurant’s small crew to discuss whether it would take down the sheets of plywood still covering her storefront and reopen for business.

“We surveyed the vibe of downtown and decided to hold off. There wasn’t much foot traffic and everything was closed,” she said. “We’ll see how it is tomorrow.”


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