Restaurants

Elizabeth Corona, left, and Alysia Sambuca promote the Frozen Sundae at Leatherby's Family Creamery on Dec. 11.

Elk Grove restaurant owners and managers on Dec. 9 learned that they would no longer be permitted to offer in-person dining for at least three weeks.

The latest state-mandated, stay-at-home order also prohibits restaurants from serving diners indoors and outdoors. They can still sell food for pickup or delivery. The order is currently expected to last until early January.

Sacramento County was one of 13 counties in the greater Sacramento region that were placed under this three-week lockdown.

That order was activated in response to the region’s available Intensive Care Units (ICU), which reportedly dropped to 14.3% while COVID-19 cases continued to increase. The state requires that regions be placed under this order whenever ICU bed availability falls below 15%.

After hearing the news of the ban on on-site restaurant dining in this region, Matt Leatherby, general manager of Leatherby’s Family Creamery’s Elk Grove location, told the Citizen that this business’s proprietors were “extremely disappointed.”

“I think what they’re doing to small businesses is really wrong,” he said. “A lot of people are hurting and we’re hurting.

“I have 70 employees that are counting on me to give them a living and that’s 70 employees in one store. We employee 300 employees, typically at a time, and they’re all counting on us to provide for them. It’s tough when your government is not fighting for you.”

Leatherby noted that his family’s business is adjusting to the order.

“We’re forced to do a lot of things different,” he said. “Everything is to go now. We’ve now changed our concept once again, upgraded all of our to-go boxes, etc., so that we can still provide a service through takeout. We’ve always been known for our service and we won’t stop doing that. But, of course, it’s going to be to go.”

During the Citizen’s visit to Leatherby’s last week, Becky Aguirre, an office manager at this eatery, spoke about the promotion of special menu items with employees dressed in costumes.

“When we got shut down, it was kind of like, ‘Hey, what can we do to get families in?’” she said. “What’s something fun for the kids? So, we’ve done Frozen Day, we’ve done Hawaii Day, we did a Dinosaur Sunday, we did a Gingerbread Sunday. It’s just different little things to (attract customers) in this crazy time.”

Leatherby’s is also offering a Letter to Santa sheet for kids to fill out, and even receive a letter in return from jolly old St. Nick.

Tran Van, who owns California Wok & Grill with his wife, May Huang, noted that his business has managed to remain open despite experiencing major financial losses since March.

“We still survive,” he said. “We don’t make money, but we’re here to keep the lights on, open (the restaurant).”

Van added that his business is suffering a lot more with the loss of in-person dining.

“They took away the patio dining,” he said. “That way, it took another 25%, 30% of the business (income) again. It’s not a restaurant no more. Within three months, if there’s not a comeback, I think a lot of restaurants will be dead.”

Van mentioned that he is not feeling optimistic that restaurants will make a quick recovery following the pandemic.

“I don’t think the vaccine will make a difference for this thing,” he said. “I think within two to three years, coming back to a restaurant, it’s not going to be normal. All food industry will be different.”

Jamie Cobian, owner of Jamie’s Café, said that her eatery has experienced ups and downs during the pandemic, and that it will continue operating during the current dining ban.

Cobian noted that she is very appreciative of the Great Plates Delivered program, which offers meals prepared by local restaurants for homebound seniors and other residents who are considered in the high-risk category for COVID-19. The city of Elk Grove started this federally funded program in May.

“(That program) has totally helped us as a business (with) all of the adjustments that have happened,” she said. “Honestly, if we didn’t have Great Plates, (the café) would be (in jeopardy of closing).”

Cobian added that she is saddened by her friends who have not fared as well with their small businesses.

“They probably won’t make it through this next round,” she said. “The first one was really hard. It’s sad for everybody.”

Moving forward, Jamie’s Café is continuing to offer food for takeout and deliveries, and Cobian is considering adding cold dinners that can be warmed up at home.

Erica Lu, of Tea Garden Chinese Restaurant, told the Citizen that this business was not affected by the recent order.

“Everything remains the same for us,” she said. “We’ve been (operating) only on (a) takeout basis. We’ve never (reopened) for dining. We weren’t ready for it.”

Lu noted that this is not to say that this business is not struggling.

“Some days are slow, some days are busy,” she said. “With the vaccine and everything, the sooner we can get this under wraps, the sooner we take this more serious, the sooner we can get back to our normal lives. We’ve just got to stick through it. Whatever they’re asking us to do, we’ve just got to do it.”

Jennifer Ma, of Rose Palace Chinese Restaurant, explained that this eatery has also survived without offering on-site dining on a long-term basis.

“We shut down for the dining (in) April,” she said. “It’s slow and we’re just doing everything we can to make sure that everybody is safe and healthy. It’s a struggle, but we will do our best.”

Ma noted that she is hopeful that the United States will emerge from the pandemic by this summer.

“Maybe until next summer,” she said. “Give it until after (people) take their vaccines and they catch up. They still need time to work on it.”

Tonia Yeh, a co-owner of Hidden Sichuan Chinese Cuisine, has also experienced a different type of restaurant operation during the pandemic.

“We haven’t done dining since March, since the (initial) shelter-in-place,” she said. “We only do takeout.”

Yeh recognized her restaurant as one of the fortunate ones.

“Since we have been offering just takeout, it hasn’t been that different – maybe 10% (in income losses),” she said. “It’s not a really big impact. We’re doing enough to survive. Of course, we would like to get through this (pandemic) and we hope that day will come soon.”