Outdoor dining still an option for 1 restaurant in LA despite COVID restrictions

Alex Jordan faced a tough decision.

For about two decades, he has owned and operated Eat at Joe’s, a well-trafficked diner in Redondo Beach that serves up breakfast and lunch.

But last week, when officials in Los Angeles voted to temporarily suspend outdoor dining countywide, Jordan had to decide: Should he keep his patio open and his employees on payroll or scale back his service to takeout only?

He eventually chose to defy local health rules and keep his outdoor seating going. The place has been packed ever since. 

“I couldn't close it, I just couldn't do it to my employees,” Jordan said, sitting at a table under a large, white outdoor tent that now consumes his parking lot. “When we closed in March, I knew [my staff could] get federal help ... but this time, it's not there.”

The outdoor patio at Eat at Joe’s is engulfed in a large, white tent. The restaurant has remained open despite health rules requiring it to shut down. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.  (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Jordan’s actions have become a rallying cry for small business owners across the state, frustrated with Governor Gavin Newsom’s policies restricting certain sectors of the economy. His restaurant also went viral on social media, especially in conservative circles, after he hung a tarp reading “The French Laundry” over his restaurant’s sign facing the Pacific Coast Highway. It is still there.

Last month, photos surfaced of Newsom sitting down indoors at the swanky wine country restaurant with members of the California Medical Association. Fox 11 originally reported on the dinner. Newsom would go on to apologize for his behavior but that did not satisfy Jordan. 

“The next day he got on TV, he's like, ‘Oh, I'm sorry. I did it.’ Well, you know what? Not good enough for me,” Jordan said. 

Jordan said residents in Redondo Beach have called the police on him. But he has been assured by the city that it does not plan to shut him down for now.

“I spoke to the police,” he said, “And later in the day, some officers came by to order takeout. They saw all kinds of people.”

A spokesperson for the Redondo Police Department told KCRW that officers are taking note of any businesses defying health orders from the county but are not taking any action at this time. 

Others residents, like John Verbiest, have been eating at Eat at Joe’s daily.

“I give them a lot of credit,” Verbiest said, sitting by himself at an outdoor table. “I encourage all of us to really support any of these businesses that open up anyway we can, or we are not going to have a lot of small businesses left.”

John Verbiest finishes up a cobb salad at Eat at Joe’s on PCH in Redondo Beach. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.  (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Verbiest said he has also been upset with the hypocrisy of California’s elected officials, and not just Governor Newsom. 

Last week, hours before LA’s outdoor dining ban went into effect, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was spotted eating outside at a Santa Monica restaurant despite lobbying hard for the restrictions. Kuehl did not violate any health rules, but the optics troubled many of her critics. 

It is unclear what concrete actions, if any, LA County health officials will take if Eat at Joe’s or other restaurants keep their outdoor dining going.

Responding to questions from reporters earlier this week, LA County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said her office would start with providing current information to restaurant owners.

“On the second round, there will be citations [and/or] people can have their food permit revoked,” Ferrer said. “We hope we never get there. We understand how devastating this feels and is for so many.” 

For now, the vast majority of LA County restaurants are complying with the current health rules

Outdoor dining is prohibited until at least December 17 when health officials will revisit the ban.