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One restaurant’s struggle to survive during COVID: ‘Despite all the barriers, we’re pushing ahead’

Eric Tjahyadi and his staffers moving outdoor tables into his Pasadena restaurant,  Bone Kettle.
Two days before outdoor dining was banned in early December, Eric Tjahyadi joined a train of staffers moving outdoor tables inside Bone Kettle. The staff’s energy level was heightened because they had to have the street cleared not a minute past 10 p.m. “It’s like a symbolic thing,” Tjahyadi said. “Like we’re all kind of sharing the weight, sharing the burden.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Pasadena police patrol Raymond Avenue as restaurants scramble to comply with a state-mandated 10 p.m. curfew.
Eric Tjahyadi believes an incredible experience at a great restaurant comes from a place of love, hope and the energy of the entire team — combined. The team needed all that energy to deal with a 10 p.m. curfew that was in place until outdoor dining was shut down. “We’re all connected in a way,” he said.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Eric Tjahyadi, his brother and chef Erwin Tjahyadi, and their father, Tjhing Sen, have learned a few things about switching it up in the last few months. Their Pasadena restaurant, Bone Kettle, has been shuttered and reopened and shuttered again as state and county officials have struggled to regulate businesses and issue public health mandates during the pandemic. Just a few weeks ago, customers could sit outside at socially distanced tables, watching the cars creep by as they waited for waiters to arrive with pitchers of steaming bone broth they poured over an arrangement of noodles and herbs. Then the state released updated restrictions for restaurants, which banned outdoor dining in Los Angeles and other counties starting Dec. 6, and Bone Kettle became a takeout and delivery restaurant only. “We’re sustaining,” Eric says, adding that he and his family members, like so many restaurateurs, have become experts in dealing with “the new normal.”

Chef Erwin Tjahyadi runs the kitchen at Bone Kettle.
Erwin Tjahyadi runs the kitchen at Bone Kettle. “There is certainly an element of comfort and trust that you get working with family,” said Tjahyadi, who works with his father, Tjhing Sen, and brother Eric Tjahyadi. “Despite all the inconveniences and occasional annoying moments, it is a blessing to be able to work with people who have your best interest in mind.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Chef Erwin Tjahyadi reads updated COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants on his phone.
Chef Erwin Tjahyadi reads updated COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants on his phone as his brother, Eric, closes Bone Kettle.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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Erwin, left, and Eric Tjahyadi discuss changes they must make at their restaurant, Bone Kettle.
Chef Erwin Tjahyadi, left, and brother Eric discussed the changes they had to make to the Bone Kettle operation after new rules shutting down outdoor dining were announced. “It’s almost like wearing our clothes inside out and enjoying the seams and embracing the inner lining of the clothing,” Eric said.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Chef Erwin Tjahyadi, left, and his father, Tjhing Sen, flank server Elver Gonzalez, picking up a tray of food.
Erwin Tjahyadi, left, creates dishes influenced by his Southeast Asian roots. His father, Tjhing Sen, right, pitched in to help run Bone Kettle as staffer Elver Gonzalez collected the food. “I consider myself a creative so cooking to me is not just a job,” Tjahyadi said. “It’s a way for me to make connections with my diners, express and share my love for food.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Eric Tjahyadi wears a face shield as he talks to health inspectors at Bone Kettle.
In early December, just before the ban on outdoor dining, a pensive Eric Tjahyadi answered questions as inspectors looked for violations during a busy dinner hour. “There’s already an air of tension throughout the day,” he said. “The anticipation that we’re going to be under a lot of scrutiny. ... At this moment, there’s a deep amount of anxiety.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Eric Tjahyadi behind a plexiglass barrier that says "No mask, no service. Do social distance. Stay 6 ft. apart."
Eric Tjahyadi stood behind a plexiglass barrier at Bone Kettle, wearing a cloth face mask and a plastic shield. The PPE, he said, “says welcome but keep your distance. It’s a very ironic interaction.” He and his family and staff have had to adapt to a “new normal” several times during the pandemic.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Tjhing Sen at a warehouse store, shopping for food and supplies for his sons'  restaurant.
Tjhing Sen shopped for food and supplies for his sons’ restaurant. He brought his family to the U.S. in 1995, fleeing violence in East Java, part of a wave of ethnically Chinese Indonesians seeking asylum in the U.S. “My dad, he’s like a salt-of-the-earth kind of person,” Eric Tjahyadi said. “He was a warehouse worker. We cleaned motels before we worked in the sweatshop, before he delivered pizza. He was a dishwasher.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Joe Delgado removed an "Open for dine-in" sign the first day of the state's most recent dining ban in early December
Bone Kettle employee Joe Delgado removed an “open for dine-in” sign after restaurants were restricted to takeout service. “We’re sustaining,” said Eric Tjahyadi. “The delivery is paying for employees [but] there’s no profit.” He added,” I try to just think in the moment ... one month at a time.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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Tjhing Sen fist-bumped a Door Dash delivery driver the first day Bone Kettle became a takeout-only restaurant.
Tjhing Sen, the father of Eric and Erwin Tjahyadi, fist-bumped a Door Dash food delivery driver at Bone Kettle. “I don’t like to think too far ahead,” said Eric, “because thinking too far ahead before didn’t really result in anything positive.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Eric Tjahyadi prepared to head home with his father, Tjhing Sen, after closing Bone Kettle for the day
Eric Tjahyadi prepared to head home with his father, Tjhing Sen, after closing the restaurant on a recent evening. “I do realize that I am a sensitive person,” Tjahyadi said. “Because I’m a Virgo, I’m very critical already about myself. I always want to do better every day.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)