Newly red-tiered LA County’s businesses counting on ‘the great indoors’

Alex Del Gaudio anxiously made last-minute preparations on Monday, March 15, before welcoming her clients inside The Wild Plum yoga studio in San Fernando for the first time in 12 months.

“It feels like a light at the end of a very long tunnel,” said Del Gaudio, who runs the studio with her sister Daniela. “It’s definitely a day of hope.”

Just like other Los Angeles County businesses, Del Gaudio hopes to salvage a pandemic-pounded financial year. Los Angeles County restaurants welcomed diners indoors and movie theaters and fitness centers opened anew, with customers widely spaced, as the county shifted to the less-restrictive red tier in the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” County officials confirmed the move Friday when the state attained the benchmark of administering 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in high-risk communities across California, all rocked particularly hard by the pandemic.

While restaurants, museums and theaters were allowed to resume indoor operations at 25% capacity, gyms, yoga studios and other fitness centers max out at 10% capacity indoors.

“With the new guidelines and our max occupancy we’ll be able to have about 15 people indoors,” said Raul Anaya, owner of UFC Gym Long Beach.

UFC Gym Long Beach, located in the city’s Traffic Circle, had acclimated to outdoor operations after county officials eased restrictions in early February.

But because of the early morning rain, Anaya said moving the equipment outside was not a possibility. And because the facility’s group courses range from about 15-30 members, exceeding the 10 percent occupancy limit, the gym had to cancel its morning classes.

“For now we’re just going to use them indoors for private training,” Anaya said.

“It was a sad year,” said Armando Ramirez, owner of Pasadena’s El Portal restaurant. “It’s looking better now, but looking back on the year, it was just really hard.”

Del Gaudio, meanwhile, noted that at 10% capacity, her studio would be able to have only two students indoors at once. While she couldn’t wait for the day when she could reopen her studio entirely, opening it even at 10% capacity was “the best news we’ve had in a very long time.”

Under red tier guidelines announced by Los Angeles County on Thursday, indoor dining can resume at 25% of capacity. The county will require restaurants to have 8 feet of distance between all tables, which will be restricted to a maximum of six people from the same household. The rules also call for ventilation to be increased “to the maximum extent possible.”

Rules for other businesses that will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday largely align with state guidelines for the red tier:

  • Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% of capacity;
  • Gyms and fitness centers can open indoors at 10% capacity, with required masking;
  • Movie theaters can open at 25% capacity with reserved seating to provide at least six feet of distance between patrons;
  • Retail and personal care businesses can increase indoor capacity to 50%; and
  • Indoor shopping malls can reopen at 50%, with common areas remaining closed, but food courts can open at 25% capacity and in adherence with the other requirements for indoor restaurants.
  • Under the new guidelines, bars without kitchens will remain closed while breweries, wineries and tasting rooms that don’t serve food are not going to be allowed to have indoor dining.

Bryan Olson, who co-owns 8one8 Brewing in Canoga Park with his cousin Derrick Olson said the new rule puts their establishment that doesn’t have a kitchen “at a competitive disadvantage.”

“Today is raining and if a consumer is going to go out, they’re going to look for a place where they know they can go inside,” he said. “It’s frustrating and disappointing.”

Olson added their customers are asking on a daily basis whether they can dine inside.

“It’s confusing for a consumer,” he said. “When someone shows up and they can’t go inside, they are going to be upset at us when it’s not our fault.”

Olson noted that he was going to support businesses that are allowed to resume indoor dining but said when it comes to “regulations they are not making an even playing field for everyone.”

“We just need our city officials to step up and put the county in check,” he said. “We are just business owners. We’re trying to make payroll and keep our business alive. If we make bad decisions, we’re going to lose customers. And they have continually made bad decisions through this process.”

Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, chief executive of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, said breweries are “already operating on a smaller scale and for them to survive they need to be able to operate at full capacity.”

“It’s not fair” not to allow breweries and wineries without kitchens to resume indoor dining, she added. Los Angeles County Health Department needs to align its health order for breweries with the state, she said, making it “easier for these businesses to reopen and recover.”

San Pedro Brewing Company, meanwhile, is allowing parties of four maximum to dine inside for up to 1 ½ hours, according to its website. The brewery was one of the first eateries in the area to move part of its dining room outside last year.

Hermosa Brewing Company co-owner Dave Davis said Monday that there is a “financial trade-off” but the safety of their 12 employees is “paramount,” so he is not opening indoor dining until his employees are vaccinated.

“We decided a few weeks ago that when it opened up, we would encourage all employees to get vaccinated,” Davis said. “Obviously it’s their choice, we can’t require it. But we are asking everybody to get it if they’re comfortable, and wait till everyone has a chance to get vaccinated before we open our doors inside.”

Davis said at full capacity indoors, they have 50 seats. So their confined space would only allow 12 diners. Currently, they have seven outdoor tables that seat 22.

“Over the course of this last year it’s been tough…  we’re running at 30% capacity and of course all of our costs have increased significantly,” said Davis, adding that the community, as well as two PPP loans, have helped support the business during the pandemic.

King’s Fish House in Downtown Long Beach had also transitioned to outdoor dining, sharing the converted street space with other surrounding restaurants along Pine Avenue.

But with news of the reopening, customers flooded in over the weekend in anticipation.

“People were excited but willing to wait a few days,” said manager Alyssa Neal. “We brought in around $30,000 over the weekend, which is more than we’ve regularly made throughout the pandemic.”

While customers were eager to get indoors, some employees, Neal said, are still on the fence about their safety. But with the vaccine rollout including food sector workers, that fear is beginning to dwindle.

“It’s great, our employees are getting or are in the process of getting vaccinated,” Neal said. “It’s just been hard for some to nail down an appointment that fits their schedule.”

She added that “overall, customers and servers are just happy to be back inside.”

A handful of Manhattan Beach restaurants operated by restaurateur Mike Simms will open for indoor dining by Thursday night. Tin Roof Bistro is up first, Simms added, letting patrons in Monday night; The Arthur J, Simmzy’s, Fishing With Dynamite and MB Post will follow throughout the week.

“(I’m) very ecstatic we get to do it,” Simms said of opening eateries’ insides. “There have been a lot of people reaching out excited to dine indoors; I think there will be a lot of demand.”

With a little more capacity, he added, Simms hopes the establishments will do 25% better than they did with outdoor-only dining.

The old-school diner San Pedro Cafe saw all its patrons eat inside Monday, server Veronica de la Torre said just before 1 p.m. She expects both their indoor and outdoor areas to be busy come the weekend.

Crusty Crab Fish Market in San Pedro reopened some of its indoor seating Monday, said manager Ricardo Cabrera, though diners still chose to eat outdoors overlooking the city’s waterfront around noon on the gloomy Monday.

“Once we really get busy and outdoor seating reaches its limit,” Cabrera added, people are going to want to go inside; we won’t see a difference (in patronage) until Friday or Saturday.”

Pacific Standard Prime in Redondo Beach officially opened in August, but Tuesday night will be the first time the eatery will have indoor dining.

“It’s a first step to getting back to normal business…we’ve seen a lot of people coming in our restaurant, but it’s kind of been their first venture out, said owner Kevin Leach.

Pacific Standard Prime was originally supposed to open in 2019, but delays moved opening day to 2020. Then COVID-19 helped close the location until August.

Leach said they have been serving customers on its patio which seats 22. While the restaurant’s indoor capacity is 236, they will be able to seat 59.

Not too many restaurants in Uptown Whittier took advantage of indoor dining on Monday. The reasons apparently were many, business leaders said.

One is that many restaurants don’t open on Mondays or Tuesdays but rather have a Wednesday through Sunday schedule, Frank Medina, president of the Whittier Uptown Association, said.

Also, St. Patrick’s Day is Wednesday and even more so, they’re waiting for that, Medina added.

“Restaurants want to have a big opening saying, ‘We’re back,’” he said.

Sandra Hahn, the owner of Crepes and Grapes, 6560 Greenleaf Ave, Whittier, which did open Monday indoors, was surprised by the lack of hoopla surrounding the return of indoor dining.

“I thought it would be a bigger celebration. or seeing balloons or something but I haven’t seen anything,” she said. “I’ll probably do that on Wednesday for St. Patrick’s Day. It will be the happy new day.”

Hahn didn’t originally plan on opening indoors but on Sunday night her staff stayed late — much to her surprise — and set up the tables and chairs indoors.

It was a good thing, Hahn said about the ability to have indoor dining.

“It was so cold, windy and rainy that it worked out,” she said. “I can tell people we’re having a good time just reminiscing like it used to be.”

La Sexy Michilada, 7051 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier was one of the few restaurants to open on Monday.

Ciro Brioto, its owner, early Monday afternoon said the day was going well.

“It’s been steady,” Brito said.

But also don’t rule out outdoor dining, he said.

“Right now, a lot of people like outdoor dining,” Brito said.

Moving to the red tier will also allow the reopening of theme parks as early as April 1 — including Disneyland in Orange County and Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles County — at 15% of capacity, with in-state visitors only.

The rules also permit the resumption of activities at institutes of higher education and the reopening of in-person instruction for students in grades 7-12. Private indoor gatherings are also permitted for people from up to three different households, with masking and physical distancing. People who are vaccinated can gather in small groups indoors without masking or distancing.

“This is welcome news, especially as many of our small businesses have borne the brunt of the financial fallout from this pandemic, and as our students struggle to keep up with distance learning,” county Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis said. “We have achieved this milestone and moved down to the ‘red’ tier because as a county we worked hard, looked out for one another and came together to defeat the dark winter surge.

“Although we are taking steps to re-open some of the hardest-hit sectors of our economy, that in no way means we can drop our guard now,” she said. “We owe it to our neighbors, our local businesses, and our children to remain vigilant so that the re-openings are safe and long-lasting — wearing masks and physical distancing remain critical.”

AMC Theatres announced that it will reopen its Century City 15 and Burbank 16 theaters on Monday afternoon, with the balance of its movie houses opening March 19.

“As we have done at more than 525 locations around the country, AMC will reopen with the highest devotion to the health and safety of our guests and associates through our AMC Safe & Clean policies and protocols, which were developed in consultation with Clorox and with current and former faculty at the prestigious Harvard University School of Public Health,” AMC President/CEO Adam Aron said.

Cinemark listed showtimes on Monday for its theaters in Downey, Long Beach, North Hollywood, Playa Vista, Lancaster, Palmdale and L.A. Harkins listed showtimes for its Cerritos 16 theater starting Wednesday.

Regal did not list any new showtimes on its sites. Neither did Arclight.

Such big-budget action fare as “Godzilla vs. Kong,” Marvel’s “Black Widow,” “F9” (the latest in the Fast and Furious franchise), and Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” are expected to welcome moviegoers back to the great indoors in the weeks ahead.

Laemmle Theatres, which specializes in foreign films and prestige pictures, said it would be screening again within five weeks.

“Details are still being finalized regarding exactly which locations will open first and what percentage capacities will be allowed, so make sure to stay tuned for further updates,” said Gabriel Laemmle in a weekend blog post. “In the meantime, you can help by remaining diligent with your COVID safety protocols and best practices. We’ve spotted land on the horizon – now is no time to jump ship.”

Larry Thaler, who lives in Marina del Rey, said he recently received a vaccine and was excited to go see a movie at the AMC Burbank.

“This is refreshing to finally go to a movie theater,” he said. “It’s nice to get out knowing that theaters are open.”

Evander Jones said he used to go to see movies multiple times a week. But after theaters closed down amid an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases last year, he spent from $3,000 to $4,000 to set up a home theater but still didn’t achieve the same experience as going to a movie theater.

“It’s more about the experience of going there and being around other people,” he said.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, meanwhile, said Monday it will reopen its doors to visitors starting April 1, more than a year after it was forced to close due to the pandemic.

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach opened at 9 a.m. Monday for a members-only day before opening to the public on Tuesday.

Reservations were required, and about 1,000 members signed up to visit Monday, according to Nicole Meek, director of visitor operations.

With a light rain falling, Meek said early turnout was light, but that she expected at least 800 visitors Monday.

“There’s a lot of relief and excitement here, and a lot of pent-up energy,” Meek said. “We’ve been sprucing up the last couple of days — we want to put our best foot forward.

“We’re thrilled to have people in the building again. The advance sales have been very good so far.”

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