It’s been almost a year since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and in that time many restaurants in Sacramento have found themselves cycling between opening and closing, being able to host outdoor dining and then being forced to offer take-out only, all in an attempt to stem the virus.
Now that the 13-county Greater Sacramento region has reverted back from the state stay-at-home order to the purple tier, the highest level in the state’s color-based tiered reopening system, some businesses are coming out strong, while others have found themselves struggling.
CapRadio’s Mike Hagerty spoke with Sacramento Business Journal Digital Editor Sonya Sorich, who has been following several Sacramento-area restaurants, to learn more about how they’re faring.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On how some local restaurants are doing
Business is still not back to usual for these [local] restaurants. They’re still dealing with a variety of restrictions and several obstacles likely to interfere with getting things back to normal in the future.
However, there are some encouraging signs. In my conversations with the local restaurant operators that I interviewed, a lot of them said that they are surprised by the extent to which customers have supported small, locally owned restaurants during these past several months.
In fact, when I was calling around to these businesses to confirm that they were all still open, there was one situation in which I kept getting a busy signal. I feared that that restaurant had closed permanently when in reality, I found out that they had just been so slammed with to-go orders that they were unable to take my call. So that’s encouraging. And there are broader factors, such as the return of outdoor dining and the news of a second round of paycheck protection program loans.
On businesses that received coronavirus-related relief money
Many of [the local restaurants] have received money, but they all note … that this process is generally far from easy, or at least it has been in the past. It can be particularly challenging for restaurants that have multiple locations, including some that have opened more recently than others.
Not all of the businesses in my project have received federal relief money. The main example is a cafe called Reset in Historic Folsom … they had the unfortunate experience of opening in March, just days before the pandemic escalated.
So, in addition to a variety of other obstacles, this means that because it was open for such a short amount of time, that business was not eligible for the major federal relief programs, which poses another outlet of frustration for its operator.
On the outlook for these businesses’ recoveries
To start on the bright side of things, there are some encouraging signs here. Some of the businesses that were part of my project are still eyeing expansions. One of those businesses is the locally owned Garden of Eat’n restaurant chain, which has locations in Auburn and Roseville.
Its operator told me that he’s still looking for additional sites, possibly sites with drive-thru. The chain just most recently [said] that they were considering a new location in West Roseville.
Also, the Pushkin’s restaurant group … not only opened a new concept during the pandemic, but one of its operators told me that he is still considering additional expansion for the Pushkin’s brand. So that’s good news there. But of course, we don’t want to gloss over the severity of the current circumstances for many of these small restaurants.
Molly Hawks, who has restaurants in Granite Bay and East Sacramento, told me that it will take at least a year to restore the financial health of her business. That’s largely due to losing the bump in business that usually comes with the holiday dining season.
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