During Summer in Hillcrest dining outside is ideal, but during a pandemic it could be a lifeline for many small-concept, mom and pop restaurants in the neighborhood.
“It allows us to sit our patio and chairs out on the parking lane. That will be protected and socially distanced and for a lot of restaurants in Hillcrest, that’s the difference of having tables or having no tables,” Hillcrest Business Association’s Ben Nichols said.
Weeks ago, several Hillcrest restaurants rushed to apply for permits from the city allowing them to set up dining areas outside hoping it would be there saving grace. But they’re still waiting.
The restaurants need access to street-side dining because the patios have been maxed out and the sidewalks don't have much space, Nichols said. That’s the exact reason Baja Betty's owner Stefan Chicotle applied for the permit.
“I had my architect over, I got my contractors over here. I got my furniture ordered,” Chicotle explained. But he said his preparedness was negated by the city’s slow response. And now that outside dining is the only option, his restaurant isn’t cleared to shift outdoors.
“We’re closed,” he said. “Our dining room’s closed. I mean I can’t even take my tables outside for something I was prepared for two weeks ago.”
If the city approves Chicotle’s permit, he plans to set up “al fresco” dining across four parking spots which should allow for 22 more customers.
“A few tables here and there could make a huge difference. Not every restaurant is a big downtown restaurant. They’re little 50-foot store fronts. That’s what we got,” he said.
Since the first closure and reopening, Chicotle has spent money on safety and sanitation enhancements like plastic curtains and QR code scanning for menus, but he’s also had to let go some of his staff.
“I’m very disappointed in it. We’ve done everything. The mom and pop shops, everyone is struggling,” he said.
Chicotle is hoping he doesn’t have to wait much longer. Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted Monday night saying he would be signing an emergency executive order Tuesday that will cut fees and streamline permits for restaurants looking to expand outdoors.