Tough Times for Local Restaurants

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Customers order take-out from Cafe Jardin this week.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

One week ago, I was dining at Il Barone restaurant, enjoying Franco Barone’s famous Facci Ri Veccia pizza with wild boar and truffle oil, accompanied by a wonderful chianti reserva recommended by Donatella Barone.

Last night I enjoyed a delicious coq au vin from Marche Moderne, and today a delicious Beef Bourguignonne from Café Jardine—both called in ahead of time as to-go orders, thanks to the mandated restaurant restrictions due to the coronavirus, aka COVID-19.

The shift from dining in a restaurant to taking food to go happened virtually overnight and caught both restaurants and patrons off-guard. Some restaurants have adapted to serving menu items to go or for delivery via a food delivery service (see separate list of restaurants), but others mulled over the idea and decided it would not work for them.

Mutt Lynch’s near the Newport Pier is offering its popular menu for to-go orders via curbside pickup from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, or via delivery through platforms including DoorDash, UberEats, Postmates and Grubhub. At least that’s the plan for now said Mutt Lynch’s co-owner Jerilyn Lynch.

“It’s been difficult,” said Lynch, who had to let much of her staff go. “Labor costs are high, so take-out is what we are doing. We got 12 orders yesterday. I don’t know how long we can sustain it. We are going day by day.”

Chef Jessica Roy of Cafe Jardin is ready to serve customers.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

Lynch said the are reducing their on-hand food supplies, although a lot of their menu items are still available, but that will probably change as Lynch determines which dishes make the most sense to offer as take-out.

Still, she’s hopeful that her regular customers and those who live nearby the restaurant will still order food.

“A lot of regulars are ordering from us, depending on the weather. On Tuesday, we got so many calls asking if we were open. People are still out and about here, ordering food and take it to the beach.”

Customer are also ordering food to-go at Café Jardin in Corona del Mar, prepared by Chef Pascal Olhats and Chef Jessica Roy. Thursday’s menu featured beef bourguignon, salmon, and a chicken and mushroom crepe. Friday’s may be similar, with the addition of French onion soup.

But that’s not the only thing available for sale.

“We have vegetables and produce from Manassero Farms. They also have great strawberries that are ripe from stem to tip,” said Chef Roy in between helping a steady flow of customers at her makeshift stand outside the Café Jardin kitchen. For Friday, and this weekend, Chef Roy will also have fresh pasta and sauces, eggs, and baguettes that are ready to bake at home.

Tavern House initially switched to take-out service, then decided to close. They sent me this email: “At Tavern House there is nothing more important to us than the safety and well-being of our guests, employees and the community we serve. With Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the minds of many and the new restrictions on gathering and restaurant dining, we have been forced to make some tough decisions. As of March 18, 2020, we will be temporarily closed. We are in constant communication with local health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. We will reopen Tavern House as soon as it is safe to do so. In the meantime, Chef David Wilhelm will be posting his favorite comfort food home recipes through his blog. Stay healthy and we look forward to serving you soon!”

A to-go order of beef Bourguignon, butternut squash soup and flourless chocolate tarte from Cafe Jardin
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

Louie’s by the Bay also closed this week, but they told me that “community is everything and it was important for us at Louie’s by the Bay to do whatever we could to help. With the closures of our restaurant on Sunday to prevent the spread of COVID, we had a surplus of items that we chose to donate to our employees and charities like Someone Cares Soup Kitchen on 19th St. in Costa Mesa. Our sauces, perishables, meats, pastas and vegetables were donated. Let’s all do whatever we can and be good neighbors through this trying time in history. We look forward to the time we can all enjoy love and laughter with one another.”

Another coronavirus casualty is A Restaurant, although the adjoining A Market is still open.

“We are taking a proactive stance to ensure the health and safety of our A Restaurant families and our community, and have decided to temporarily close A Restaurant beginning March 17 until further notice,” said owners McG and Jordan Otterbein. “We thank you for your ongoing support through these uncertain times and look forward to seeing you when our doors reopen soon. Until then, A Market is open for pick-up or Postmates delivery daily from 7 a.m.–3 p.m. and looking forward to serving you.”

The Bungalow Restaurant, a longtime mainstay in Corona del Mar, has also temporarily closed. I received this email from owners Jim Walker and Louie Feinstein.

“The Bungalow family is saddened by the effect of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on our local community and in the world. As a locally owned and operated establishment, there is nothing more important to us than the health of our customers, our employees and our community. Due to the recent developments with COVID-19, it is with a heavy heart that we have made the decision to close our restaurant for two weeks effective March 17. During this evolving pandemic it is important that we continue to align with what is best for the well-being of our community, patrons and staff. As this is a rapidly revolving situation, this may be revised or extended at any time. Until then, let’s support each other and our community. The Bungalow family is grateful for your mindfulness and wishes you continued health and wellness during this sensitive time.”

Cafe Jardin menu on Thursday.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

I dined at Bluewater Grill last Friday, so I was stunned that the restaurant decided to close several days later.

“We have made the difficult decision to temporarily close Bluewater Grill locations for the health and safety of our team, guests and community until further notice. We are taking this measure in accordance with local, state and federal health recommendations and believe this is in the best interest of the well-being of our employees, customers and community. After this temporary closure to support public health protocols, we are looking forward to pick up where we left off and offer our guests the hospitality and meaningful connection that we are known for. We anticipate being permitted to re-open in April but will adapt as new information becomes available.”

Other closures include The Winery Newport (although The Winery Tustin is offering take-out), and Rothschild’s.

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