Restaurant owners express hope, caution after stay-at-home orders lifted

Photo of Berkeley restuarants
Maya Valluru/Staff
After the California Department of Public Health lifted the regional stay-at-home order across the state Monday, Berkeley restaurant owners are expressing hope and concern.

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Berkeley restaurant owners expressed hope and caution after the California Department of Public Health lifted the regional stay-at-home order across the state Monday.

While Alameda County is currently in the purple “widespread” tier, the lift allows for more public activities to resume. These activities include outdoor dining, gyms and fitness studios, as well as indoor operation of personal care services such as hair salons, according to a city of Berkeley press release.

“It’s been a year since we’ve had a lot of business and it’s been hard,” said Khendu Lama, owner of Momo Masalas. “I’m hoping that it will help. It’s not like we just have an indoor area; we have a big outdoor area that seats 30 to 40 people.”

Lama added that since the start of the pandemic, the family-owned Indian and Nepalese restaurant has struggled to maintain a steady flow of income, as most of their patrons are students. The restaurant has also been unable to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan and closed several times since the first stay-at-home order last March.

To give back to his favorite restaurant, UC Berkeley senior Parham Rouzbahani and other campus students helped Lama create a website to process orders that helped bring in some revenue.

“I really want to make an emphasis to inspire other generations of Berkeley students and other members to support local business,” Rouzbahani said. “They’re not just businesses — they are places that are important to the community.”

Michael Hagler, co-owner of Smoke Berkeley BBQ, a local mom-and-pop restaurant that specializes in Texas BBQ, said opening the restaurant’s outdoor dining space comes with various decisions, including whether or not to serve food on trays and use silverware, to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

Partnerships with the city, most significantly the Double Helping Hands program aimed at feeding Berkeley’s unhoused population that began in April, have helped keep the restaurant open, according to Hagler.

“We are going to proceed with caution,” Hagler said.  “Our number one goal is to provide people with great BBQ while also providing a safe working environment for workers and my patrons.”

Hamei Hamedi, manager of El Patio, said the restaurant also faced significant challenges, as sales decreased in December after reopening efforts were stopped amid a rise in COVID-19 cases.

While Hamedi also expressed concerns regarding the lift in activities, he added that those at El Patio were “happy” to start moving past the pandemic.

“We are relieved to be out of the most extreme danger,” said Berkeley Health Officer Lisa Hernandez in a city press release. “Yet this easily spreading disease means that we cannot let our guard down. Our vigilance keeps ourselves, our families and our communities safe.”

Contact Clara Rodas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @crodas_DC.