Dave Fansler, owner of Pismo’s Coastal Grill, said the cost to rent a tent on a monthly basis for 10 months was about the same as the rent on his restaurant. Photo by Pismo’s Facebook page.
Written by Frank Lopez
Among the industries that had to adapt quickly to pandemic restrictions to stay in operation were food and hospitality businesses.
With restrictions on indoor dining in place for most of 2020, many restaurants and eateries shifted focus to provide take-out orders for customers, or if they could, set up outdoor dining areas on their properties or parking lots.
The City of Fresno provided grant funding for new parklets and expanded outdoor dining areas for eateries and bars in Downtown Fresno, including Kocky’s Bar & Grill, Modernist Mixology and Fulton St. Coffee Roasters.
However, not all eateries had space to expand their outdoor dining areas to seat hungry diners desperate to eat out anywhere for a sense of normalcy.
Dave Fansler, owner of Fansler Restaurant Group, which includes Pismo’s Coastal Grill, Westwoods BBQ and Yosemite Ranch Steakhouse restaurants in Fresno, was vocal of his opposition to mandates regarding indoor dining, and even faced several citations for defying orders.
Fansler eventually stopped offering indoor dining and moved his focus to setting a tent patio dining area in the Pismo’s parking lot last July.
He said that tents were first erected when restaurants were limited to just take out, and that customers were taking their orders and eating, so he put up a tent without any seating to get people out of the sun.
Fansler said he did receive some flak from the city for that move, but that eventually the city allowed eateries to erect tent-dining areas in parking lots.
“I went overboard because I was so pissed off at the city that I thought, ‘I’m going to build you a tent like you’ve never seen’,” Fansler said. “I spent probably like $40 grand just to set the tents up. Then I had to rent the tent, which was $17,000 a month, which is approximately the rent of the restaurant—and I paid that for 10 months.”
Though he won’t get that money back, Fansler said it was a choice he made to keep the restaurant going and keep as many people employed as possible.
Along with the tents he rented, he also invested in plastic glass partitions for social distancing that he is going to take down soon and keep in storage. Fansler said he doesn’t want to throw it away because it’s so valuable, but he really doesn’t have any use for it now.
Fansler said he spent around $40,000 in plexiglass.
He said he feels for smaller restaurants that had to adapt in such ways to stay in business, and that there could have been more communication from the city and the health department with the local restaurant industry.
Fansler said he is hopeful that the books will be balanced by the end of the year with a pent-up demand from the public for dining.
Cassandra Turner handles sales at Best Party & Event Rentals in Clovis, which provides an assortment of rental equipment for events and weddings including tents, chairs and tables.
At the onset of the pandemic, Turner said there was increase in interest from restaurants for tents for their outside dining areas.
“We do a lot of tent rentals but it is usually for weddings and special events, and so a lot of the tents that were being requested were for long term,” Turner said. “Usually our tents are for a weekend, and then they became rented for months at a time.”
With the economy reopening, Turner said those rental tents are being returned, but the demand for tents remains high during the school graduation period.
At this time last year, Turner said that many people had to cancel events such as weddings, and parties, but the company is currently seeing a huge influx of pent-up demand.
“We went from doing nothing to doing a lot,” Turner quipped.
Along with having trouble finding people to work events, Turner said the industry also saw a material shortage. Many of the vendors and manufacturers that provide essentials for events — tables, chairs, linens, flatware, glassware, etc., were shut down or short staffed, which lead to a shortage.
Since March, weddings in the Central Valley have been keeping the company busy, but the wedding season is beginning to taper off as the heat goes up, Turner said.
With the sudden change in many social and business practices brought on by the pandemic, Turner said she could see outdoor dining in parking lots become a regular thing.
A lot of restaurants and businesses in general realized that they need to utilize their outdoor space better, and tents, whether because of the pandemic or because it’s nice outside, and can get more business,” Turner said.
Total Concept Enterprises, is a manufacturer in Fresno that specializes in CNC milling and turning, CNC tube and pipe bending, and fastener distribution for medical, ag, fitness equipment and transportation industries.
To stay in operation and keep employees working, President and CEO Liz Mcllvaine started to think about how the company could shift around last April.
Total Concept began to manufacture plastic space dividers for businesses and offices that are customizable to the client’s needs.
“April of last year was really good,” Mcllvaine said. “We started doing all the partitions for custom work for restaurants, offices, and even banks in the area. It went well and at some point it was the reason our business kept going, but slowly and surely, things slowed down.”
Mcllvaine said that as the economy reopened, and as safety and health protocols were relaxed, the demand for plastic partitions went down, with no partitions being manufactured in the last two months.
Though there is still some interest here and there for partitions from businesses, it is not at the level that it was last year.
Even with the wanning interest from businesses, the demand isn’t completely gone.
Mcllvaine said that OSHA has been working on restrictions that would be imposed on businesses such as Total Concept to continue to offer protections for employees unvaccinated against COVID-19, which would continue to drive demand for partitions in the near future.
“I do not see it [demand] going away,” Mcllvaine said. “This virus could evolve, and we don’t know how it could affect us. We have material, we have equipment, so we will be ready for it.”