According to a legislative committee, nearly a third of California’s restaurants closed and two-thirds of workers at least temporarily lost their jobs as the pandemic set in over a year ago.
Local restaurants that are surviving now reflect on what it was like when the coronavirus first hit.
“Sales were cut 85%,” said San Luis Obispo Petra owner Rammy Aburashed.
“People just stopped coming out. I couldn’t really even afford to keep my doors open,” added Louisa’s Place owner Aubrey Pyle.
To make ends meet at the start of the pandemic, many restaurants switched to a delivery and takeout business model. This meant many employees had to be laid off.
“That was the biggest toll. I felt like I was failing them as an employer, because we’re a family here. And I couldn’t do anything for them to make it better,” Pyle said.
Some street parking was converted into outdoor dining areas.
“The City of San Luis Obispo has been amazing, built us our parklet and we have outdoor dining,” Pyle said. “Without them, I don’t think I would’ve been able to make it.”
As COVID restrictions in San Luis Obispo County now allow for indoor dining at 50% capacity, the restaurant business is recovering.
Local restaurants are hiring to keep up with demand, but they’re struggling to find candidates.
“We should be going back to full hours pretty soon. Right now, it’s kind of difficult hiring more employees,” said Aburashed.
Pyle of Louisa’s Place believes current unemployment benefits are keeping some people from applying for minimum wage jobs.
“I’ve been looking to fill front of the house positions for about two months now and we're just not getting the applications we used to get. If I posted something online, I would have upwards of 10 people coming into apply within the week and now I’m having one or two,” Pyle said.
In the meantime, Pyle says she’s hopeful to receive some government aid from the Small Business Administration.
“That would help with being able to pay bills, being able to do maintenance that I couldn’t afford to do on the restaurant because of COVID,” Pyle said.
The application deadline for the SBA’s Restaurant Revitalization fund is Monday at 8 p.m. It’s part of the American Rescue Plan to help eligible businesses keep their doors open.