Restaurants providing The City with food during these trying times will be able to service thirsty customers by selling prepackaged alcohol to-go.
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control on Friday said it would temporarily suspend enforcement of certain regulations to sustain the restaurant industry during the statewide emergency declaration by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Temporarily lifting the restrictions would not jeopardize the public’s health and safety, the department said. Virginia, New York and Colorado have also loosened liquor restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.
Restaurants and bars that serve food for delivery or takeout will be able to sell alcohol along with food orders. In addition to pre-packaged bottled wine and beer that some restaurants already offer to-go, restaurants can offer beer, wine or cocktails in a container with a secure lid if accompanied by food for delivery or pickup.
“This will give businesses that already have a delivery system in place an additional lift,” said Stacy Jed, board president for the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and owner of Bluestem Brasserie in the SOMA. “For restaurants in neighborhoods it can be a valuable add to revenue during this tough time.”
On Thursday, Newsom issued statewide stay-at-home orders, following similar shelter-in-place orders issued for all six Bay Area counties on Tuesday. The orders effectively closed all restaurants and bars except for pickup and delivery services. Restaurants that were already seeing their business decline saw a swift drop in sales.
Michael Rodriguez, owner of Cadillac Bar and Grill, said business has been the worst he’s ever seen, worse than post-9/11 and the recession. Rodriguez, along with many other restaurants, has had to lay off employees and cut hours drastically. Cadillac has downsized staff to just two people in the kitchen to keep the restaurant open for pickups as a courtesy to the neighborhood.
“Anything that I could sell would be beneficial at this point,” Rodriguez said. “I’m losing money just by opening the doors.”
While take-out and delivery orders are sustaining restaurant businesses for the time being, it is not a sustainable business model for most restaurants that rely on dine-in customers to meet their bottom line. Bryan Tublin, the co-owner of Kitava, said making alcohol available for to-go orders would be an immediate action with little cost to spending ultimately to support employees.
“We are employers of working-class people who often live paycheck to paycheck and are a vulnerable population of society,” Tublin said. “Neighborhoods are at risk of changing forever. These are existential weeks right now for restaurants and small businesses.”
While the office of the mayor announced initiatives for relief for small businesses, including deferral of taxes and licensing fees, a relief fund of an initial $1 million and a moratorium on commercial evictions, restaurant owners are concerned that it may be too little too late.
Yuka Ioroi, owner of Cassava in the Outer Richmond, has come up with her own solutions to try to mitigate the loss of business and to support employees. Cassava increased the availability of family meal packages for pickup and Ioroi set up a donation page on GoFundMe.com for a staff income loss relief fund. She said the community has turned out overwhelmingly and donations have reached over $8,500 in two days to the “Cassava Virtual Tip Jar.”
“Restaurants are used to working on the edge, I’m optimistic but realistic,” Ioroi said the donations would go toward cashing out employee sick days. “I’m doing everything I can think of to take care of our staff.”
Examiner staff writer Michael Barba contributed to this article.