Second wave of virus closures wallops California restaurants

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A waiter takes an order at Slater's 50/50 Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Santa Clarita, Calif. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered a three-week closure of bars, indoor dining and indoor operations of several other types of businesses in various counties, including Los Angeles, as the state deals with increasing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES – Homayoun Dariyani was training servers and cooks for his soon-to-open gourmet hamburger grill in March when California abruptly shut down dine-in restaurants to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

After a three-month delay, Dariyani held the grand opening for Slater’s 50/50 on June 18 after the state allowed restaurants to operate with limited capacity. It would be a brief reprieve.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday shuttered indoor dining for at least three weeks across much of the nation's most populated state, warning that infections were rapidly climbing.

The sudden reversal, less than two weeks after Dariyani opened the doors of his restaurant in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita, left him stunned and in a financial fix. He had stockpiled fresh beef and produce for a busy Fourth of July weekend, which now could turn into a five-figure loss.

He’s struggling — again — to keep 60 workers on the payroll with nearly 300 seats inside his restaurant empty. He has a takeout window and room for 80 on his patios, where customers are allowed to eat because the threat of virus transmission is much lower outdoors.

The latest order “is a huge step back for all the restaurants,” said Dariyani, who also runs a catering business. “It’s not fair to anybody.”

The coronavirus crisis has left millions unemployed, but few businesses have been hit as hard as California's estimated 90,000 restaurants. Industry experts predict that as many as one-third of them will never reopen, while others are trying to navigate a maze of new sanitation rules and physical-distancing guidelines that have gutted seating charts and boosted in-house costs.

“It’s chaos,” said Jot Condi, who heads the California Restaurant Association.