For restaurant and bar owner Camila Perry, New Years Eve has always been one of the busiest days of the winter holiday season.
But since omicron-powered tills began to increase last week, reservations at its busy Sherman Oaks bar have started to decline.
In the past five nights, she said, sales have fallen nearly 40%.
“A lot of people don’t come because they’re scared,” Perry said. “Many of our regulars get sick.”
The sudden spike in new coronavirus cases has taken its toll on many restaurants and bars, forcing business owners to scramble to replace sick staff and even temporarily shut down to protect their customers and employees.
Folks Pizzeria in Costa Mesa, for example, announced on Instagram on Thursday, December 30 that it was due to close that evening due to a staff shortage.
“Due to a staff shortage we cannot run the service and have to CLOSE tonight,” the restaurant’s post said. “This is a complex and difficult situation to manage and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
The New Year’s Eve countdown celebration in downtown Grand Park has been canceled due to public health concerns. and Center Theater Group canceled the “A Christmas Carol” production earlier this month, citing groundbreaking cases of COVID-19 among the cast.
Bill Matthews, COO of the Zislis Group – which operates Shade, Rock’N Fish, The Strand House and The Brews Halls hotels in South Bay – said there was hypersensitivity to COVID- 19 from customers and staff since the variant began to spread.
“Everyone is really freaking out, I wouldn’t say, although some people are very concerned,” Matthews said in a telephone interview Thursday. “But I think people want to make sure that workplaces are safe or that the place they choose to dine is safe. And I think that was our main goal.
Sales, Matthews said, are down – with business facing “a bit of the omicron effect” – but winter and recent inclement weather could also be a factor in that regard. But, he added, the company has, out of caution, canceled two of its biggest events: New Years Eve at the Shade Hotel in Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach.
“Instead, we’ll go on and make dinner reservations; our tables are spaced, ”said Matthews. “We think it’s a safer route.
Matthews also said his group is consulting with LA County and state public health departments and does not anticipate another shutdown.
If another shutdown happened, he said, it would be “catastrophic” for small businesses.
“Another shutdown would be extremely difficult for businesses across all industries,” Matthews said. “Not just hospitality, but all businesses.”
Brent Reger, owner of Project Barley Brewery in Lomita, said his business never fully recovered from its full 15-month shutdown in the early days of the pandemic.
Project Barley, Reger said, was only open for about six months before the pandemic struck in early 2020.
“We didn’t get out of the woods, we mostly limped,” Reger said. “Our company is 100% of people going out; it’s not like we can pivot and suddenly have a different business model.
The increase in the number of cases has taken a further toll on Reger’s business, he said.
“Even before that, we weren’t 100%,” Reger said. “It kind of got the trend back to where we were when we were struggling, not even being able to cover the rent and stuff like that. It was pretty brutal.
Christy Caldwell, owner of The Ordinarie in Long Beach, said he had to shut down the business entirely due to the latest wave of COVID-19. Many of its staff, who are fully vaccinated and boosted, have contracted or have been exposed to COVID-19.
“It’s not something we really want to do, but I just don’t have enough healthy staff to do it,” Caldwell said. “We’ve been following protocols, wearing masks, doing whatever we’re supposed to do, and I guess omicron is exactly where it is right now.”
Caldwell has said he’s trying to stay positive about the future of The Ordinarie: Perhaps, Caldwell said he hoped this would be one of the last big pushes in the pandemic. It plans to reopen next week.
“It would help us get through that if people started paying a little more attention to the way we run, with masks on and everything,” Caldwell said. “Just keep wearing masks and try to help us all get through this. Be attentive and considerate.
Laurie Latham Brandt, co-owner of the Red Car brewery and restaurant in Torrance, said she was also facing staffing issues due to the omicron push.
During the holidays, several members of Latham Brandt’s team were exposed to the coronavirus – and getting tested wasn’t easy. One of its employees, Latham Brandt said, stood in line for six hours to take a test.
Red Car, due to the exhibits, chose to close early for several days.
“We want to keep our team safe,” said Latham Brandt. “We’re just going to keep adjusting as we go.”
Latham Brandt added that they could close again this Sunday to allow for some sort of staff “reset”, as she said – time to make sure every staff member is tested and in good health.
However, not everyone has felt the impact of the coronavirus wave yet.
Brian Kelleher, co-owner of Hook & Plow restaurants in Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, said Thursday his establishments had not seen a decline in business – and not much concern from customers.
“We had a lot of support from the community,” he said of the first stop. “They really wanted to support local restaurants and were doing take out or delivery. But when the second stop came, I felt like everyone was, Hey, you know, we did our part by supporting the first lap. Now we kind of have to squat down and take care of ourselves.
If there is another stop, Kelleher said, “I think it could be incredibly harmful not only to us, but to all the restaurants in South Bay.”
Perry, meanwhile, said her businesses had slowly started to rebound in recent weeks, after nearly two years of uncertainty amid confusing government closures and restrictions linked to the pandemic.
But the recent wave of COVID-19 prompted her to consider temporarily closing her North End bar in Hollywood until social activities resume.
“Sales don’t cover payroll,” she said.
Her Sherman Oaks bar, however, will most likely remain open, Perry said, but she may need to cut back on her staff hours.
“A lot of people have gone out for Christmas and they come back expecting to make some money and maybe there won’t be any money to be made,” she said. “We lost money by staying open. “