Santa Barbara Moves to Close Restaurants, Tasting Rooms

City Council Shuts Down Establishments in Response to COVID-19

Credit: Courtesy

Falling in line with guidance directed by the state and county to combat COVID-19, the City of Santa Barbara on Tuesday ordered that all restaurants, bars, breweries, and wine tasting rooms temporarily close, with an exception for take-out and delivery options. Also mandated to be closed are all movie theaters, live music venues, gyms, and other places where the public can gather. Exempted are grocery stores, pharmacies, food banks, and cafeterias in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and the airport. The rules go into effect on March 18 and will continue until April 7. 

The outbreak is already hitting restaurants hard. “[Yesterday] I had the horrible job of laying off 350 people,” said restaurateur Sherry Villanueva through tears at the Santa Barbara City Council hearing on Tuesday. “Many have two full-time jobs to live in this county, and they are their family’s primary breadwinners.

Villanueva is the owner of Acme Hospitality, and she closed her eight restaurants, including The Lark, Loquita, and Paradise Café, on Monday. Laying off employees allows them to apply for unemployment payments, but those are just a fraction of their usual pay — in fact, they’re not even enough money to pay for health-care premiums. Villanueva said that Acme will cover the employees’ health-care premiums until April but won’t be able to afford to do so after that point. “We’re grateful that there are unemployment benefits,” said Villanueva. “It’s just not enough.”

Tuesday’s City Council meeting included a presentation by Bruce Stenslie of the nonprofit Economic Development Collaborative, which serves Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. He noted that 17 percent of the City of Santa Barbara’s jobs are in hospitality, compared to just 10 percent statewide. That accounts for about 7,000 jobs, about 5,000 of which are estimated to be in the restaurant and bar business. He confirmed, “You are really ground zero for … this kind of economic impact.” 

Also speaking on Tuesday were David Potter of Municipal Winemakers and Potek Winery, and Magan Kunin of Kunin Wines. Both closed their tasting rooms on Monday and requested that the city consider a mandatory order about shuttering such establishments for the time being. 

Potter already laid off all of his part-time employees. “We’re scared — business has stopped,” said Potter. “One month is feasible, as we learned from the Thomas Fire, but three months without revenue is probably impossible…. We’re stuck, and our bills haven’t stopped, but our revenue has.” 

Kunin said that most of the 25 tasting rooms in Santa Barbara had already closed. “I have zero revenue now and a full set of bills for the foreseeable future,” said Kunin, explaining that her business interruption insurance only kicks in when closures are mandatory. “If there was a mandate [to close] as compared to a directive, I know my business would survive. But we don’t know how long this piece of string is…. If we don’t think hard about this and take action, at the end Santa Barbara will lose a lot of businesses.”

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