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O.C. businesses adjust, again, after Newsom calls for 3-week closure of indoor dining, bars

A sign at Baja Sharkeez, at the Newport Pier in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
A sign at Baja Sharkeez, at the Newport Pier in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Hoping to curb coronavirus infections heading into the Fourth of July weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday called for the closure of indoor restaurant dining rooms and all bars for at least three weeks in key parts of the state, including Orange County.

The governor said the closures would apply to 19 counties across California being monitored by the state for recent surges in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. In Orange County, health officials Wednesday reported 570 new infections and 542 hospitalizations.

“If we want to be independent from COVID-19, we have to be much more vigilant in terms of maintaining our physical distancing from others,” Newsom said. “And we have to be much more vigilant as it relates to being in situations where we are transmitting [the virus].”

Wednesday’s announcement also calls for the shuttering of any Orange County wineries and tasting rooms, museums and zoos as well as card rooms, movie theaters and other family entertainment centers — many of which had barely reopened earlier this month under the prior easing of restrictions.

News of the shutdowns comes as residents and visitors look ahead to a holiday whose rituals starkly contrast restrictions calling for physical distancing and prohibiting gatherings of multiple households.

 Rockin' Baja Lobster Bar & Grill in Newport Beach
Customers dine in at Rockin’ Baja Lobster Bar & Grill in Newport Beach on Wednesday, the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom called for the closure of indoor restaurant dining and bars in Orange County.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Fourth of July plans fizzle

In Huntington Beach, a city known for its Independence Day festivities, the holiday weekend is an important one for local businesses as out-of-town visitors patronize restaurants, bars and beaches.

El Dorado Hills couple Todd and Lisa Smith, who’d come into town and were enjoying a beer at Perqs Nite Club and Sports Bar Wednesday afternoon, had planned to celebrate the holiday but moved their trip up when they heard closures might be on the horizon.

“I have never seen the Fourth in Huntington Beach, and the plan was originally to come down here for that, the mania,” said Todd Smith, crediting his wife for the date switch. “[Still], it worked out because we can be here. We’ve experienced some good restaurants, our favorite bars.”

Murat Koc, the owner of Coach’s Mediterranean Grill in Huntington Beach, said his restaurant has operated on Main Street for 32 years and employs about 20 people whose families depend on them being able to stay open.

Restaurants simply cannot survive continuing closures and restrictions, he said.

“Fourth of July is the biggest day of the year for everybody on Main Street — that’s a big revenue loss,” Koc said. “What the governor, Newsom, is doing is playing with everyone’s bread and butter. Not having business, it will destroy everybody.”

Baja Sharkeez in Newport Beach
Customers dine in at Baja Sharkeez in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Restaurants ride a reopening roller coaster

For Michael Byrne — co-owner of the Laguna Beach bar the Saloon and owner of Roux Creole Cuisine — Wednesday’s announcement is one more in a series of curveballs that have required equal parts patience, adaptability and skill.

Both of Byrne’s businesses closed in mid-March as stay-at-home orders were put in place. Roux eventually reopened for takeout and delivery, then welcomed back dine-in requests in early June, as Orange County restrictions began to ease.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously to close the beach on July 4, but to also give the city manager the discretion to close on July 3 and 5.

When a cook at Roux tested positive for the coronavirus about two weeks ago, just as Byrne was getting ready to reopen the Saloon on June 21, he made the difficult decision to re-close Roux while employees got tested. That’s when he learned a chef had also tested positive.

“There isn’t anybody who’s going to get away with not getting it — every restaurant is going to have somebody,” the restaurant owner reflected Wednesday. “It doesn’t have anything to do with what you’re doing. It’s going to happen.

Newsom’s recent order goes into effect at midnight Wednesday. At that time, Byrne’s Saloon will have been open just 10 days before having to close once more.

Steve Rosansky, chief executive of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, said stories of loss and devastation are becoming more common as business owners experience closures all over again. Those with outdoor spaces have been given a hall pass for the time being, but not every restaurant has that luxury, he said.

When Basilico’s Pasta e Vino proclaimed its #nomasksallowed stance on social media, some vowed never to patronize the Huntington Beach establishment again. Others supported the viewpoint.

“This new order is going to be a crushing blow to many of the restaurants in town,” Rosansky said. “There will be a few who can maybe adjust as best they can. But a lot of places don’t have the space.”

Hope for outdoor eateries

Shortly before Newsom’s daily coronavirus briefing noon Wednesday, Orange County Health Care Agency interim healthcare officer Dr. Clayton Chau issued a countywide order strongly recommending the closure of bars, breweries and pubs that do not serve food but seemed to make provisions for those that did.

The order advised bars offering dine-in meals through a dining room or contracted vendor to follow the same state guidelines as restaurants but made no mention of any new prohibitions against indoor dining.

Orange County spokeswoman Molly Nichelson clarified “the state’s order supersedes the county’s order.”

In a comment Wednesday, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chair Michelle Steel said she and her colleagues are dedicated to protecting the health and safety of county residents.

Two lifeguards have tested positive, a third is showing symptoms and more than 20 are in quarantined, stretching staffing thin. Newport’s beaches will be shut down from 10 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday. Huntington Beach will also close its parking and pier in additions to beaches.

“We will continue to follow all state orders and health guidance from federal and state health officials,” Steel said. “I encourage all Orange County residents to follow these guidelines.”

Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, who leads the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce said her city and the city of Costa Mesa recently passed ordinances allowing local food businesses to set up tables on sidewalks and parking lots to help restaurants survive. Many permits have been granted in the past month, she said.

“People are applying, and they are taking advantage of it,” she said. “Will it be enough? That’s the question I don’t know the answer to.”

Proprietor Marc Ghoukassian, who owns Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach and Bistango in Irvine, is making full use of the establishment’s outdoor areas to help keep business going.

He experimented with drive-up music concerts at Bayside in May that thrived before city officials told him he had to stop. Now, he’ll shift his focus to outdoor dining and hope for the best.

“We’re doing whatever we can and making the best of it,” Ghoukassian said. “Thankfully, we have very loyal and supportive customers.”

Newsom orders counties to halt visits to indoor restaurants, wineries, entertainment centers, movie theaters, zoos and museums for at least three weeks.

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