Restaurants defying health orders, call outdoor dining 'peaceful protest' in possible loophole

Numerous restaurant owners are defying California's order to close their doors, but they say it isn't because they don't think the virus is dangerous. It’s a matter of survival.

As the owners put it — when outdoor dining stops, the rent isn’t put on hold, employee payroll doesn’t stop but business drastically drops.

Dave Foldes, the owner of Cronies Sports Bar and Grill, told FOX 11 he was keeping outdoor dining open to protect his staff’s financial health. He said the business can’t survive on just takeout, which he said only netted $400 last Tuesday.

RELATED: Owner fined by LA County says he didn't want to lay off workers before Christmas

"We really have no choice, we’re barely getting by, we’re losing $5 to $10 grand a month in our busiest normal months," he said. "We’re following all the regulations that the rest of the state and country are following, we just need to survive and I need to make sure my staff survives because they can’t afford it."

At Swork Coffee in Eagle Rock, they are calling their outdoor dining area a "peaceful protest," a reference to one of the two exceptions in Los Angeles County for public gatherings, which currently allows gatherings for places of worship and protests.

In a memo placed on the coffee shop's front door, the company says, "The restaurant industry has been unfairly targeted. With all due respect to everyone who may be suffering health challenges due to COVID-19, Swork is peacefully protesting the right to keep our tables and chairs on the sidewalk. Small retail business and cafes are closing, while big corporate giants, like Costco, thrive and continue to pack stores with patrons. Please reach out to your councilman with support."

RELATED: Los Angeles County restaurants can apply for up to $30,000 in financial relief amid new closure

It’s unclear how county officials will deal with apparent loopholes and open defiance of the outdoor dining shutdown, though citations, fines, and other penalties could come to restaurant operators.

Last month, LA restaurants were ordered to drop outdoor dining to 50 percent capacity and follow a 10 p.m. curfew. In just over two weeks, it was shut down altogether. 

Some restaurants are finding ways around the outdoor dining ban by openly defying the order or setting up seating nearby without direct service to customers.

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The city of Manhattan Beach just took action to balance public health concerns and a struggling business community.

In a statement released Thursday, the city said it "has repurposed outdoor dining areas as public seating areas to encourage patrons to support the local business community while providing a socially distant and safe place to relax and enjoy the holiday shopping experience."

People using those areas must still comply with all of the county’s revised protocols, including wearing a mask, social distancing and not gathering with anyone outside of your immediate household, city officials said.

Restaurants are only permitted to serve takeout and delivery under the state's regional stay-at-home order, which will remain in place for at least the next three weeks.

RELATED: Regional stay-at-home order kicks in for Southern California

Restaurant owners maintain that delivery and takeout only are not enough to keep these businesses alive long-term.