Manny Perales, owner of Yosemite Falls Cafe, organized a rally Thursday for restaurant owners to share their challenges over lockdown. Photo by Edward Smith

published on September 4, 2020 - 10:55 AM
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Before a crowd that swelled to nearly 80 people, a group of restaurateurs, bar owners, elected officials and even a gym owner spoke of a grim outlook for the future of their industries.

Fresno restaurant owner Manny Perales hosted an open forum of business owners outside his restaurant, Yosemite Falls Cafe, at Shaw and Blackstone avenues on Thursday.

“A bunch of restaurateurs, small business owners met a few weeks ago. We got together and said, ‘what are we going to do?’” Perales said in his speech. “We are in five months now. Many business owners and people here today are either closed and have been closed for five months or have been partially closed.”

The rally was largely held in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised standards for reopening. The plan rates the counties in four categories — widespread transmission, substantial, moderate or minimal. Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties are all rated as “widespread.” This means that more than seven new cases per 100,000 have arisen and the infection rate is greater than 8%. In order to move to the next tier, counties have to break the threshold for two continuous weeks.

For a county such as Fresno with a population of nearly 1 million, that means no more than 70 cases in a day for 14 days. From Sept. 2-3, there were 243 new cases reported, according to the County of Fresno.

“We thought we were going to get the news that we can open and we’re getting the news that ‘you’re not opening, and you’re not opening any time soon,” Perales said.

After the announcement by governor on Monday, Lewis Everk, owner of VYXN restaurant in Fresno, said that many restaurateurs met with Perales and decided to hold the rally

“We were pretty shaken up. When we realized there was no light at the end of the tunnel, we knew we had to do something,” he said.

Even with patio dining, many restaurateurs say it isn’t enough to keep them going. In a video announcing the closing of his High Sierra Grill restaurant, Perales said it’s not safe for many of his patrons to eat outside in triple-digit heat. And the cost to install misters, fans and coolers is not feasible in many cases.

Everk said that even with patio dining, he is only making 20% of normal.

Ben Stockle, owner of Richard’s Prime Rib and Seafood in Fresno, said even while closed, his operating costs total $13,000 a month.

Another bar owner, Jeannette Butcher of The Shanty, said she has three weeks before she’ll have to close entirely. She has nine employees, three of whom were unable to get unemployment insurance. Her bar in central Fresno has been closed since March. She and her husband invested his 401K into the restaurant. The shutdown came at a time when she had to renew her insurance for the bar that is closed. She also had to renew her liquor license with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

“It’s really been devastating and I have no answer of what I’m going to do,” Butcher said.

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