California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a package of bills intended to support businesses Oct. 8, prompting temperate reactions from small business owners in Berkeley.
Senate Bill 314, or SB 314, authored by Senator Scott Wiener, allows for the continuation of outdoor dining with alcohol post-pandemic, and SB 389 similarly allows for the continued sale of carry-out alcoholic beverages. Assembly Bill 61, or AB 61, increases flexibility allowing restaurants to expand outdoor dining. According to a press release from Newsom’s office, the package of bills builds on “successful pandemic adaptations and unprecedented supports” for small businesses.
Catie Stewart, a spokesperson for Wiener’s office, said SB 314 maintains changes to regulations around alcohol implemented during the pandemic which have proved helpful to businesses.
“(SB 314 is) important because alcoholic beverage code has some pretty outdated provisions that prevent businesses from flexibly using catering licenses, doing outdoor dining, doing some of the key things during the pandemic that businesses have been enjoying,” Stewart said.
The bill was passed with enthusiasm in the state legislature. Stewart said support for it was “one of the most bipartisan I’ve ever seen.”
Local businesses, however, have only expressed moderate enthusiasm about the effectiveness of the new bill package for keeping them afloat. Corey Mike, a manager at Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen, said SB 389 in particular does not offer much for his restaurant.
“I wouldn’t say it’s important, but it has helped a little bit,” Mike said of to-go alcohol. “We’re mostly food-based here; 85% of our sales are food-based anyway. We’ve sold a decent amount of alcohol to go … but it hasn’t affected us too much one way or another.”
According to Mike, despite outdoor dining having been popular, activity at the restaurant has recently been slower than usual, something that he blames on the cost of living in the Bay Area making it difficult for customers to afford to eat out.
Edward Yoon, owner of Seoul Hotdog on Hearst Avenue, says his restaurant isn’t affected by the provision regarding alcoholic beverages. Instead, it’s been the resurgence of students in the area that has brought people back.
“We opened the restaurant in February (2020), the pandemic hit in March, and then the students left. We shut down the whole month of April,” Yoon said. “We didn’t know anything about COVID, we were afraid, people were afraid, but rent was still due.”
Yoon credits his restaurant’s success to “word-of-mouth” advertising by the students as well as social media. Now that school is back in session, he considers everything to have more or less gone back to as it was pre-pandemic.
Despite the difficulties stemming from the pandemic, Mike believes legislation can’t replace a business’ responsibility to manage itself at the end of the day.
“I don’t know that there’s anything we can do other than trying to provide the best service possible and keep the quality of the food high,” Mike said. “That’s what we can control and have them coming back. That’s what we can do.”
Lance Roberts is a general assignment reporter. Contact him at [email protected]