Local businesses find ways to keep employees working and customers served in time of coronavirus

Grant Harris, executive chef of the Recess Room restaurant in Fountain Valley, prepares free grab-and-go lunches Friday for senior citizens 65 and older and students up to age 18.
(Scott Smeltzer/ Staff Photographer)

Frustrated with empty grocery store shelves as anxious shoppers stock up under stay-at-home directives, some people have resorted to fishing for their food amid the coronavirus pandemic.

David Beek, who runs the Island Marine Fuel dock on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, says he’s been selling a lot of bait lately.

“I’ve seen an uptick, and when I ask ‘What are you going out for?’ the response from fishermen is provisions for their freezers,” Beek said. “The fishing is good; they’re catching fish right and left, like sheepshead, bass and halibut.”

Many businesses not considered essential to daily life or critical public services have shuttered amid government measures intended to keep the virus from spreading.

As social distancing deepens in an effort to stem the worldwide outbreak of the virus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, many local restaurants and retail stores are seeing precipitous drops in business.

Island Marine Fuel is considered essential because, in addition to providing fuel for recreational boaters, it serves agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard and Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol and sells convenience store items.

The business, in fact, is doing very well, Beek said, enabling him to keep his employees working.

Staff at Island Marine Fuel on Balboa Island is keeping up with boating fuel needs during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Susan Hoffman)

“Boats are considered a second home, which means I’ve seen a lot of people bail lately,” Beek said. “Instead of ‘Hey, family, let’s go to the movies,’ [it’s] ‘Oh wait, you can’t. Let’s go use that boat sitting down there that we never use.’

“It’s one of the few activities a lot of people can do … use their boats. People can be sequestered in the house or on a boat in the ocean.”

Still, Beek, like leaders of all establishments operating under virus-related restrictions, is finding ways to adjust.

He said the dock is taking measures to maintain safe distances between customers and is allowing only one boat group to enter the store at a time.

Bryan Nye and his mother, Sylvia Bice, co-owners of Baycrest Caps & Corks Bottle Shop and Market in Costa Mesa, have made a few modifications to their business, including expanding grocery offerings.

“We’ve always carried groceries, but we expanded and started bringing in bread, dairy products, canned goods, paper goods, laundry, cleaning and more items you normally don’t see at a convenience or liquor store,” Nye said. “Being across from Ralphs, we’ve never sold much of these type of items, but now it’s more convenient because we can offer less interaction with people.”

Bryan Nye and his mother, Sylvia Bice, who own Baycrest Caps & Corks Bottle Shop and Market in Costa Mesa, have expanded their grocery offerings in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
(Susan Hoffman)

Nye said Baycrest is putting marks on the floor to help with social distancing and is limiting customers to five at a time. He also has reduced counter time for employees so they’re not exposed to as many people.

“To keep them at normal hours and provide a full paycheck, we combine register hours here and there and have them do stock work where there’s no interaction with the public,” Nye said.

“We’re starting to implement bonuses on top of the normal paycheck for those coming to work and being supportive to not just us but the community so we can keep our doors open.”

A few doors down, Citizen Water Co. is helping to satisfy an increased demand for bottled water.

“We had a roadblock trying to keep our supply of water bottles in stock to keep up with demand and have had to source different vendors,” owner Evan Krisher said. “The biggest gain we’ve seen, though, is the increase in purchasing our [in-home 60-gallon] water system so customers don’t have to keep coming to the store for refilling.”

Evan Krisher, owner of Citizen Water Co. in Costa Mesa, shows a 60-gallon in-home water system that can serve as an alternative to bottled water.
(Susan Hoffman)

Public gyms and health clubs, however, aren’t as fortunate since they’re not considered essential businesses and have been ordered to close to prevent gatherings of people close together.

Sean Canova, owner of Training Zone in Costa Mesa, can attest to that after police shut him down March 20.

“We had two different types of clients — those who were scared and didn’t want to come in and those who were steadfast,” Canova said. “Those with the perspective of not wanting to get out of the routine were of the belief that working out was helping to stay healthy and keep their immunity built up.”

A message from Sean Canova, owner of Training Zone in Costa Mesa, tells customers the gym is closed because of restrictions on nonessential businesses during the coronavirus crisis.
(Susan Hoffman)

Since the closure, Canova has an alternative workout plan for his clients and those of the adjacent Escape Pilates.

“We leased out reformers and some of our gym equipment and then rented a U-Haul so I could deliver to our clients,” Canova said. “We are now offering FaceTime or virtual workouts.”

Real estate agents like Coleen Brennan, most of whom are classified as independent contractors, are finding different ways to stay in touch with clients.

“I’m offering to do FaceTime tours for people,” said Brennan, who works in Corona del Mar and has been in the business for more than 40 years. “We have a new listing at $7.5 million now, [and I’m] focusing on video and 3-D viewing of the home, as no open houses are allowed.”

May listings are being canceled or put on hold, and many escrows have been canceled, she said.

Sherri and Dan Loomer, who operate Your Animals Best Friend, a pet care, boarding and dog walking service in Huntington Beach, said they are doing only about 5% of the business they used to because pet owners are staying home with their animals.

“We’ve run this for over 10 years and never closed our doors, and we’re not going to do so now,” Sherri Loomer said. “We want to be here for our clients. We’re supporting our first responders and everyone who has to fight this virus pandemic.”

Sherri and Dan Loomer operate Your Animals Best Friend, a pet care, boarding and dog walking service in Huntington Beach that has seen its business drop precipitously during the coronavirus outbreak. “We’ve run this for over 10 years and never closed our doors, and we’re not going to do so now," Sherri Loomer said.
Sherri and Dan Loomer operate Your Animals Best Friend, a pet care, boarding and dog walking service in Huntington Beach that has seen its business drop precipitously during the coronavirus outbreak. “We’ve run this for over 10 years and never closed our doors, and we’re not going to do so now,” Sherri Loomer said.
(Courtesy of Sherri and Dan Loomer)

Sherri, who underwent a double mastectomy in January, already knew how it feels to be cooped up.

“It’s very hard to be out of your routine. It causes anxiety, stress and depression,” she said. “Thank God I work with dogs and get the unconditional love that they offer, which literally saved my life.”

The pandemic has been crippling for the hospitality sector as well, with millions of jobs lost.

Restaurants are limited to takeout and delivery service, with dine-in options shut down.

“We’ve implemented a family to-go kit to be cooked at home, with free delivery, which is by no means even a Band-Aid but helps keep the lights on,” said restaurateur Jeff Chon, owner of Tabu Shabu in Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach, Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa and the Alley in Newport Beach. “The Tabu Shabu meal consists of meats, vegetables and rice at $100 for four, and the Oak & Coal features different skewers, with rice and sautéed garlic noodles at $80 for four. The Alley is open Thursday through Saturday for takeout along with to-go cocktails.”

Area chambers of commerce compiled lists of all the restaurants in their cities that are open for delivery and/or takeout.

The Balboa Yacht Club in Corona del Mar is offering members prepared meals from the kitchen for takeout. Members also can shop from an extensive online list of food staples, including meats, produce and dairy, and make orders by phone or fax. Each purchase includes a free roll of toilet paper, a scarce item in stores recently.

“They call the club and, for example, order steak, salmon, fresh vegetables, a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk and have it in 15 minutes packed in a box along with a roll of toilet paper,” said Beek, the Balboa Yacht Club commodore. “And ... you can get a margarita or martini with your meal to go.”

Balboa Yacht Club member Matt Campbell, left, picks up a takeout meal from the kitchen from staff members Rigo Zuniga and Jose Romero.
(Courtesy of Balboa Yacht Club)

Beek said his goal is to keep everyone in the supply chain working and provide a service to club members by thinking outside the box.

Slapfish, which has locations in Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, has introduced a take-home lobster roll kit that serves two people and comes with butter rolls and pre-made lobster filling for $40. It will keep in the refrigerator for four days, the restaurant said.

Slapfish also has extended its Kids Eat Free promotion to all day every day. Previously, it was available only on Wednesdays. The deal provides one free children’s meal with the purchase of another menu item.

In Laguna Beach, Selanne Steak Tavern, a high-end establishment on South Coast Highway co-owned by Hockey Hall of Famer and former Ducks star Teemu Selanne, shifted to curbside takeaway service, with discounts for all call-in orders.

It also has a pop-up mini market with grocery staples such as bacon, eggs, milk and fresh produce, and is offering meats, poultry and seafood to prepare at home.

Along with many of the restaurant’s regular entrees, the takeaway menu includes gourmet hamburgers and hot dogs from sister location the Penalty Box in Garden Grove, which is temporarily closed.

Matthew Wu and Toni Ann Moore leave the Recess Room restaurant in Fountain Valley after receiving a free lunch Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Though struggling through the new restrictions on restaurants, the Recess Room in Fountain Valley is hosting Free Food Friday each week to give away takeout lunches to students up to age 18 and senior citizens 65 and older who call ahead.

In addition, takeout meals are half-price for healthcare workers, first responders and anyone in the restaurant industry.

Chon appealed to the community to “go support local business.”

“Many of us won’t be around without a great deal of support from the community,” he said. “If we really connect and get together, the majority of us can make it out of this. If I’m gonna go down, I’m going down in flames, fighting. We can control how we attack things, being vigilant and uniting with a possibility there can be something good that comes out of this.”

Susan Hoffman is a contributor to Times Community News. Daily Pilot City Editor Rob Vardon contributed to this report.

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1:53 PM, Mar. 30, 2020: This article was originally published at 6:30 a.m. March 29 and has been updated with additional information.