On July 1, after a month of preparation, Brittney Valles, the owner of Guerrilla Tacos in LA, was planning to open up her dining room at 11 a.m. for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. California had announced a month earlier, on May 29, that restaurants could start serving again, but Valles hadn’t felt ready. As she wrote in an essay in Eater published earlier this week,
I wanted to stay closed. However, as other restaurants began to open their dining rooms and people grew more eager to leave the house, our takeout business started to fall steeply. With our PPP funds drying up, I had to make the call to reopen as safely as humanly possible. As we began preparing, the team spent so much time thinking about our customers and our staff: How do we keep them safe? How do we behave as responsible members of our community?
And so she began hiring back staff, investing in supplies, and creating new protocols to keep everyone safe.
But then at noon on July 1, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that restaurant dining rooms in several counties across the state, including LA, were closed again. Guerrilla Tacos closed for the day, and the duration, at 4 p.m. It had been open just five hours. “We’re back to where we were before May 29, but now with less funds, too much inventory, and the dashed hopes of 45 people,” Valles writes.
The most galling part of the whole thing, Valles believes, is that it could have been prevented if the government had taken better care of its people. In June, the California state senate had been considering a bill that would have allowed commercial tenants to renegotiate their leases and walk away without consequences if they failed to reach a deal with their landlords. Members of the restaurant industry lobbied for it, but the bill was killed in the appropriations committee, thanks to the influence of big real estate companies. The chair of the committee claimed after the bill had died that he hadn’t known landlords weren’t negotiating with tenants already.
Now the U.S. Senate is considering a relief bill called the Restaurants Act that would, among other things, provide $120 billion in grants to independent restaurants like Guerrilla Tacos and enact a second round of PPP loans. “My true hope,” Valles writes, “is that we can mobilize the restaurant industry to get it passed. Enjoying good food is a bipartisan issue.”
In the meantime, Guerrilla Tacos remains closed, Valles’ employees are out of work, and Valles herself is very, very angry. “I am just out here trying to survive, trying to build generational wealth, trying to employ a great team of people.... There is no winning for the little guys. We are under the boot of big business, politicians with price tags, and a system that has set us up to fail.”
The whole essay is worth a read if you’re wondering how restaurants are managing to survive—and if they even can.