Co-Owner of Sama Sama Kitchen Tyler Peek looks back at the empty dining room on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Downtown Santa Barbara, Calif. Sama Sama is one of the many restaurants downtown still open for the time being, but only offering take-out or delivery options as a precautionary measure against spreading COVID-19. (Serena Guentz)
Co-Owner of Sama Sama Kitchen Tyler Peek looks back at the empty dining room on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Downtown Santa Barbara, Calif. Sama Sama is one of the many restaurants downtown still open for the time being, but only offering take-out or delivery options as a precautionary measure against spreading COVID-19.

Serena Guentz

Restaurants suffer, may close doors because of coronavirus

March 20, 2020

Walking down State Street, it’s plain to see the noticeable effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the large number of businesses with their doors closed.

Many restaurants have also closed, and those that are still open are only offering take-out or delivery options at this time.

These closures come at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is spreading fear and uncertainty around the world. As of Friday afternoon, there are nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County and over 1,000 cases in California. On Thursday evening, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place order.

As millions of Californians are ordered to stay home except for essential needs, this is increasing unemployment rates and bringing less business to restaurants, possibly putting the livelihood of small businesses in jeopardy.

On Tuesday, both the Goleta City Council and Santa Barbara City Council adopted an emergency proclamation that required the closure of dine-in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as the closure of gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and other entertainment venues.

Restaurants can remain open but they cannot allow the consumption of food on the premises and can only offer take-out or delivery.

These new orders regarding social distancing are being put in place in an effort to reduce social contact among people and prevent or slow the spread of the contagious COVID-19 virus.

“It happened so fast,” said Tyler Peek, one of the owners of Sama Sama Kitchen. “We’re getting less than an eighth [of business] of what we were doing.”

Sama Sama Kitchen is one of the many restaurants in downtown Santa Barbara that has developed an online ordering system and is currently only offering take-out, with “meal-kit” options that customers can use to eat throughout the duration of their time stuck indoors.

“We might have to close in the next week,” Peek said. 

Peek also said Sama Sama Kitchen usually gets around 150 customers per day but is now only seeing about 20 to 30 people. 

“Small businesses like us are f—ed,” said Alan Lee Tsai, one of the managers at Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria. “Even with promotional deals right now, it’s not worth it.”

Lee Tsai said Persona Pizzeria is getting less than a quarter of its usual sales. At about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, for example, the pizzeria had seen less than 20 customers throughout the day.

“It’s really taking an impact on all of us,” Lee Tsai said.

This impact on restaurants is being seen all over the country as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase globally.

As restaurants are taking this hit and businesses are doing what they can to stay afloat, Lee Tsai emphasized the importance of a trending Change.org petition entitled “Save America’s Restaurants,” which is asking legislators to consider waiving payroll tax, providing emergency employment benefits to workers suffering during this time and more aid to help restaurants.

“[Restaurants and bars] are gathering places where people celebrate good times and forget their troubles in bad,” the description of the petition said. “Many of the restaurants that closed voluntarily—or by mandate—at this moment of crisis will not come back.”

It is unknown how long the need for social distancing will last or how long dine-in restaurants will remain closed as the Santa Barbara City Council proclamation ordered closures until at least April 6, but the recent shelter-in-place order California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Thursday currently does not have an end date.

Check back with The Channels for continued coverage on the coronavirus.

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