No more outdoor dining in LA for 3 weeks. ‘This was a bit of a body blow,’ says Salt Creek Grille owner

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin

Public health officials have suspended outdoor dining in LA County for the next three weeks — starting 10 p.m. this Wednesday. Restaurants are still allowed to do takeout and delivery. 

Greg Amsler, owner of Salt Creek Grille in Valencia, won’t be using his large patio and outdoor waiting area that he turned into extra dining space. 

“That was a bit of a body blow yesterday,” he says. “We had just spent not only the expense but also the time and effort of doing all this.” 

Amsler says Salt Creek Grille must undergo its second round of layoffs, which means 10-15% of employees will be left, and those who previously lost their jobs used most of their unemployment benefits already.

These include people who are living paycheck to paycheck: busboys, food runners, line cooks, and servers. Amsler adds that single mothers work at his restaurant, and they’ve had to juggle homeschooling their kids while making ends meet. 

Amsler expresses a frustration: “The industry as a whole has done a very, very good job of sticking to the guidelines … putting up the barriers, spending the extra money and the extra time, wearing the masks, wearing the face shields, gloves. … I don't know if we were singled out, but it kind of feels like that sometimes.” 

When his restaurant was allowed to do outdoor dining and limited indoor dining, patrons had to wear masks between bites/sips and when they got up from their tables. “I guess that's a little hard to do, and it's obviously hard for us to enforce,” says Amsler. 

He has one big question: “If you can't go out to eat, is this going to force people to go and congregate at other people's homes that may be much less safe than you would at a restaurant?”

Salt Creek Grille’s fireplace patio will remain empty as outdoor dining will be banned for three weeks starting November 25. Photo courtesy of Greg Amsler. 

Amsler had prepared a lot for Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season. He pre-bought all the dry goods and canned goods he expected to need. 

“Thanksgiving for us is … probably the third busiest day of our year. And we were stocking up on a lot of our nonperishables,” he says. “But also we put up a couple of tents outside because it started getting a little bit cooler at night. And [we] also invested in 12 standup heaters with the propane tanks. That's some of the expenses that we're not going to be able to get back.”

Nonetheless, he says he still anticipates a good takeout day because Angelenos must stay home. 

But elected officials haven’t provided safety nets for restaurant workers, says Amsler. 

“I don't have other restaurants that we can pool resources, capital, equipment, whatever you may be able to share. It's me by myself, which is what 90% of the restaurants and bars are out there. And to just shut it down and say, ‘Sorry, you're on your own,’ it’s tough.” 

He continues, “There should be some type of … backup system where if we do A, then we can do B. Or if we can do B, then C is implemented. That kind of thing. This just seems like, ‘You're shut down, there's nothing you can do about it. Sorry. We'll reevaluate in three weeks.’”

Does Amsler believe he can survive this? “I certainly hope so. So far, yes. … It's going to depend on — is it going to be three weeks or is it going to be six weeks? It's hard for me to believe that in the middle of the Christmas season, they're going to open everything back up. … I just don't see it happening until after the first of the year. … I believe I will survive. We've done some things to kind of prepare for this. But there'll be a lot of mom and pops and a lot of independents out there that you won't see open anymore.”