A little more than a year after Governor Gavin Newsom instituted the lockdowns, nearly a third of California restaurants have closed permanently.
According to The Associated Press, California’s lockdowns have left the food industry battered and bruised in the Golden State. Prior to the pandemic, up to 76,000 eating and drinking establishments employed up to 1.8 million people. Those numbers dropped precipitously as the lockdowns continued throughout 2020 and into 2021. Though the state has eased restrictions over the past few weeks, about two-third of the industry’s employees lost their jobs at least temporarily and employment remains a quarter below what had existed prior to the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has upended all of our lives, but its impacts have been felt more acutely in the restaurant industry,″ said Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman. “It is clear that recovery will take time.”
Reopening the economy will likely do little to turn the tide given the labor shortage. A legislative committee in the state said that a lack of staff will be a serious impediment for restaurants as they seek to rebuild.
“Many restaurants are struggling to serve the customers already allowed under current capacity limits because of a lack of staff, the committee said,” reported the AP. “Potential employees may be able to make ends meet with unemployment and federal stimulus benefits instead of going back to work, it said in its report. Some may fear for their safety during the pandemic, while others may want ‘more stable career paths’ after being repeatedly furloughed.”
Matthew Sutton, California Restaurant Association senior vice president for government affairs and public policy, called upon lawmakers to allocate some of the state’s budget to create incentives for employees to return to work. Kevin McCarney, founder and chief executive officer of Southern California’s Poquito Más restaurant, said the recovery will take at least two to three years.
In March of last year, the National Restaurant Association predicted that 11% of restaurants could be closing permanently. Hudson Riehle, the Association’s senior vice president of research, said the data shows the industry is in “uncharted territory.”
“Association research found that 54% of operators made the switch to all off-premises services; 44% have had to temporarily close down. This is uncharted territory,” said Riehle. “The industry has never experienced anything like this before.”
While Gov. Gavin Newsom kept restaurants from serving food indoors and at full-capacity, he received an outpouring of criticism after photos leaked of him attending an in-person dinner at Napa’s luxurious French Laundry restaurant. Award-winning journalist Adam Housley — a previous Emmy, AP, and RTNDA recipient — claimed that the dinner had 22 guests and ran up a bar bill of over $15k. No masks were worn.
“Because Yountville is my hometown..and where the French Laundry is located…I thought I’d do some digging. Facts about the Newsom dinner. The bar bill was around 15-thousand. 22 people in attendance, not 12. No masks. All indoors. They got so loud, other patrons complained,” Housley tweeted.
“There was ‘zero effort’ to go outside and there was no social distancing of any type. I’m also told some of those there are now privately laughing at the controversy. Remember this is my little hometown. The walls speak,” he added.
Newsom apologized for the incident.