Some Restaurants Try to Roll With the Pandemic Punches

Breakfast Republic still hands out free meals despite cutting payroll

NBC Universal, Inc.

Dozens of yellow metal chairs were stacked near a makeshift wooden fence. A metal wire and lock secured them from being stolen outside Breakfast Republic in Mission Valley.

It’s an all-too-familiar site at California restaurants in 2020.

“It seems like the punches keep on coming,” sighed Johan Engman.

Engman might be considered a prize fighter in the restaurant industry. He started his first restaurant during the recession in 2008. Now he’s navigating more than a dozen restaurants like Breakfast Republic through 2020. The Chief Executive Officer of the Rise and Shine Hospitality Group said it’s hard when the public health and safety rules in San Diego County keep changing.

“The ever-changing regulations, because they certainly haven’t been the same from month-to-month,” he said. “This is like a gut-punch to be told you have to be closed down again right around Christmas, right after you spent $50,000 on building patios with money you frankly don’t have.”

Since March, restaurants in San Diego have closed, reopened for takeout, reopened outdoors, indoors, and then for outdoors again, only to be reduced to takeout-only once again.

“I don’t think in my wildest dreams I thought there could ever be a year like this,” said Engman.

His voice cracked a bit when he admitted his restaurant group had to part with roughly 400 employees this week. Engman said he doesn’t think California Governor Gavin Newsom made the right call.

“I don’t think he’s being very fair to the hospitality industry," he said.

Despite the restrictions, Engman said Breakfast Republic in Mission Valley will still pass out free meals to people who were laid off or simply need one.

“I think that says a lot about their integrity as a business itself,” said a customer who paid for her meal.

Engman said Breakfast Republic passed out more than 6,400 meals earlier this year despite juggling the ever-changing rules.

“I’m at a loss for words at times because it’s just so tough,” he said.

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