Local restaurants use technology, lay-offs and hospital-grade sanitizer to keep their kitchens open

By Shanee Edwards

Taiwanese restaurant Little Fatty, food gallery concept Pop’s Burgers and Shakes, Marina del Rey’s Pizzarito and Westchester’s Benny’s Tacos are doubling down on delivery

One of the best perks of living on the Westside is the wide array of delicious dining options. But since California Governor Gavin Newsom mandated a statewide closure of dine-in restaurants in response to the Covid-19 virus and the city of Los Angeles has halted restaurants from offering dine-in service, going out for a casual, boozy brunch at Lunetta All Day in Santa Monica isn’t an option right now. Lunetta All Day, like most Westside restaurants, is open for pickup and delivery, but it’s unclear if the shift to a take-out/delivery model alone will garner enough business to sustain most restaurants.

We checked in with some of our favorite eateries to see how they are faring. Most are hopeful they will make it through this time of crisis and all are adapting new safety measures to minimize health risks and follow orders from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Restaurateurs are also optimizing technology to make getting your meal as easy (and germ-free) as possible. Some restaurants like Mo’s Place in Playa del Rey and Gulp in Playa Vista are offering to-go cocktails (now legal in California under a temporary measure by the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control); others, toilet paper and hand sanitizer to-go.

Some like Playa’s Bacari PdR have turned into temporary pop-up markets, and others like chef Jeremy Fox’s Birdie G’s in Santa Monica have added the option to curbside pickup culinary staples direct from the famed chef’s larder. The City of Santa Monica has even launched an interactive digital map  (santamonica.gov/coronavirus-resources) to help local in-home diners find restaurants offering to-go/delivery services.

While our local restaurants seem to understand the key to survival is innovation, overall, everyone is worried. Here’s what they had to say.

Benny’s Tacos in Westchester | bennystacos.com

Benny’s Tacos manager Christian Gutierrez says now that customers can no longer dine-in, they are seeing drastic financial losses. “We are losing thousands of dollars every day,” he says. “Our delivery went up a bit but we’re still losing a lot of money. We’re just staying open to provide for our community and our neighborhood, and so our employees can have money to feed their families.”

Pizzarito N.Y. Pizza by the Slice in Marina del Rey | pizzaritomenu.com

Al Caruso has owned and operated Pizzarito in the Marina Marketplace for 36 years. He says, “Some days business is up and some days down, it’s hard to say.” To help drum up business, he’s doing internet promotions and working with the Marina del Rey Visitors Bureau. But he’s also sanitizing to the hilt. “When we get here in the morning, we get out the hospital-grade disinfectant and go through the whole restaurant.” Luckily, he hasn’t had to lay off any employees. “As long as the government doesn’t shut us down, we’ll be here.”

Mao’s Kitchen in Venice | maoskitchen.com

Jake Li, owner of Mao’s for the last 20 years says business is very slow. “I’m very nervous,” says Li. “The pick-up and delivery is a little busier, but the daytime is really slow. We don’t have dine-in so the sales figures have dropped probably 40%.”

But Li says he felt a slowdown back in January, weeks before the Governor banned in-restaurant dining. Because the Covid-19 virus started in China, he thinks people have an unconscious bias against Chinese food. He hopes people realize his food is just as safe and delicious as any other food. “We are Chinese food, but a very American company.”

The Gallery Food Hall at Third Street Promenade | popburgers.com

The Gallery eateries in the Santa Monica Place mall are focused on ramping up delivery, according to John Kolaski, owner of K2 restaurants. They are using a total of eight delivery services, including their own service, SocialEats, specifically for people in Santa Monica. In a twist of fate, they feted their newest eatery Pop’s Burgers and Shakes with a launch party just days before the state and city’s directives to halt dine-in service.

“It’s actually been our most popular concept so far,” says Kolaski.

Kolaski says they also stocked up on another highly sought-after commodity: “We bought a whole lot of toilet paper so our team doesn’t have to worry here, and we’re selling rolls of toilet paper on our apps to help people not have to leave the house.” All food comes in sealed bags.

Tony P’s Dockside Grill in Marina del Rey | tonyps.com

But not all restaurants are trying to ramp up take-out and delivery. Jack Reck, manager at Tony P’s, says, “We are completely closed. We have the option to do [take-out and delivery], but we’re not set up for it, it’s not efficient for us. It would not be cost effective.”

Little Fatty in Mar Vista | littlefattyla.com

Little Fatty’s manager Pam Stampahar says she had to lay off 80% of her staff and is now focused on take-out and delivery. Luckily, they already had a robust delivery business and have seen an increase on take-out as well. Stampahar says a lot of customers are opting not to use the apps for takeout because they want all the money to go to the restaurant.

Last week, Little Fatty also launched an entire frozen line that seems to be popular with people wanting to stock their freezer. “The dumplings and some of our pasta dishes can be bought in bulk,” she says.