Life After COVID shutdowns: Van Nuys restaurant owner discusses challenges of staying afloat

Two years ago, Lulu's Restaurant server Melanie Sanchez was very emotional. Thanksgiving Day 2020 was the day after she received a furlough notice. It was the first of what would be two furloughs over the last two years.

Her boss at the Van Nuys restaurant, Mike Camorlinga, told us in November 2020 that state and county COVID-19 protocols were killing his business financially. They were losing about $10,000 a month. Rent was $21,000.

On November 26, 2020, he told me he might have to shut the place down. But fast-forward to Thanksgiving Day 2022, he managed to survive and navigate through the rough times.Now, Mike and Melanie are working this year's Thanksgiving holiday. She's serving up meals for indoor eating. He's filling those takeout orders as fast as he can,

In between calling the shots, he breaks some bad news to us. Something we were not expecting.

"I'm still going to shut it down, next year," Camorlinga said. "Because we're not making it. Minimum wage is way up. Rent is way up. All the supplies are incredibly high so, and we've already arranged we'll shut it down next year."

He called the pandemic the nail in the coffin for his business.

Melanie's life has since improved. At the time, she took an emotional and financial hit. Because of the suddenness of losing her job, she now has a savings account she didn't have then. As for what she is grateful for this year? 

"I have many things to be grateful for. I'm very grateful for the job that I have. I'm very grateful for the customers that keep coming back," she said.

Longtime customers like Steve Beach have come here every Thanksgiving for years.

"We love this place. I just hope it doesn't fall by the wayside," Beach said.

Camorlinga loves it too. But, on this day for counting blessings, it’s hard for him to muster up the words of what he's thankful for. 

"At least we're still alive and still here I guess," he said.

But, now, this man who started working here 43-years-ago as a busboy at the age of 19 and moved into ownership now faces the prospect of shutting the doors.

"Unless a miracle happens we're doomed," Camorlinga said.

Nonetheless, there was a steady parade of customers parading through Lulu’s on this Thanksgiving Day.

Their arms were filled with boxes of turkey, cranberry sauce, other trimmings and pie. Those happy customers are enjoying their holiday meals thanks to the hard work of Mike Camoranga and his team.