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Some Restaurant Owners Hesitate To Reopen Dining Rooms

Bradrick Cooper (left) owner of Coop's West Texas BBQ and Shawn Walchef (righ...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: Bradrick Cooper (left) owner of Coop's West Texas BBQ and Shawn Walchef (right) owner of Cali Comfort BBQ, May 14, 2020.

Earlier this week the state of California provided guidelines for restaurants to reopen their dining rooms.

As of Thursday, some restaurants in rural California counties are reopening for dine-in service. State and county health officials, however, have not yet given the 'OK' to reopen dine-in service for San Diego County restaurants. Some San Diego County restaurant owners are hesitant about reopening their dining rooms.

"There’s so much uncertainty out there, the only thing that we can control is what we know," said Shawn Walchef who owns Cali Comfort BBQ in Spring Valley. "And what we know right now is what we’re doing has been working. It’s safe, it’s effective."

When COVID-19 restrictions first went into place about two months ago, Walchef was forced to closed his dining room.

"We didn’t really know what we were going to do," he said. "We’re going to be delivery and takeout and it was pretty much a brand new business."

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Reported by Matt Hoffman , Video by Andi Dukleth

Walchef has been using social media and his website to build up takeout and delivery sales. He said considering how to reopen is just not worth the risk right now.

"We operate on very thin margins and for us, we want to do something that's safe and we don’t really know what’s safe even with the new guidelines that have come out," Walchef said.

In the meantime, Walchef said business owners should focus on digital hospitality.

"So how do you make that digital experience where there is that hospitality side? And that’s our job as restaurant owners to really figure that out," he said. "Is it a thank-you note in the to-go bag? Is it to make sure you get ranch when you order wings? Is it to make sure we put BBQ sauce or we put enough napkins? Those are things that we work on a daily basis.”

Walchef is not the only local restaurant owner looking to just continue to carry out.

"We pretty much let all our staff go, we were about to close," said Bradrick 'Coop' Cooper who owns Coop's West Texas Barbecue in Lemon Grove.

When COVID-19 restrictions hit, Cooper said business dropped 60%.

"Surprisingly, you know it’s actually gotten to the point where it’s okay [since]," Cooper said.

Recently Cooper hired back four additional employees. He has been using social media and, for the first time, partnered with delivery services to build his sales back up. Still, Coop is thinking he will continue to do just takeout for the foreseeable future.

"We might just continue to just do carry-out even if they (state officials) do open it up," Cooper said. "I take this coronavirus very seriously, I want to limit the possibility of spreading it."

Cooper also does not want to risk reopening his dining room.

"Before we had 26, 28 people seating capacity," he said. "With social distancing, we probably only have room for two or three tables."

State guidelines suggest increased sanitation and ventilation measures as well as installing barriers in spots where maintaining social distancing difficult, but Cooper said all of that costs money.

"The restaurant business is one of the toughest businesses, it has the most narrow profit margin out there," Cooper said. "So when we have to start spending money for ventilation systems and all these other systems that are going to take place, it’s going to be tough."

Restaurant owners say state regulators allowing to-go alcohol sales has helped increase sales. They appreciate the community’s support during this uncertain time and say while some might want restaurants open as soon as possible once the county gets state approval, customers should not be surprised if some eateries do not jump to reopen dining rooms.

"That will happen. We just have to give it time," Walchef said. "We cook our barbecue the same way we run our business and that's low and slow."

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.


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Matt Hoffman
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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