Van Nuys restaurant struggles with COVID-19 restrictions

Restaurant employees work final shifts as county's outdoor dining ban forces layoffs, furloughs

VAN NUYS, Calif. -- Melanie Sanchez has worked Thanksgiving at Lulu’s for 10 years.

This Thanksgiving is a tough one.

“Today is my last day,” she says, as tears begin to fall from her eyes.

"I’m very emotional. I’ve been a server my whole life,” Sanchez adds.

Like other workers at Lulu’s, Sanchez is being furloughed because of the Los Angeles County restaurant restrictions prohibiting outdoor dining for at least the next three weeks.

Like all other LA County restaurants, the takeout option is all they can do. And, she’s working because the restaurant was flooded with some 500 Thanksgiving takeout orders.

As the green beans sizzle and the cooks make the turkey, she serves takeout to regular customers like Colleen McGurrin.

Says Sanchez, “I’m very nervous. I’m very insecure. I’m very unsure about the future.”

Customers, like McGurrin, worry for Sanchez and others in the same situation. Normally, for her, Thanksgiving would be with her 92-year-old dad or a friend.

This year, she eats her takeout alone at home and hopes for better days. She tells FOX 11, “I feel so sad for everybody we’ve lost to COVID. I just hope we can get out of this soon because I’d like to spend time with my family.”

When customer Steve Beach checked out, he paid his tab with a $100 bill and said push it forward to someone in need. He and his friend Susan Goodrich says they were planning to eat their Thanksgiving meal at Lulu’s had it not been for the restrictions.

As we talk, Beach says, “I’m sorry we’re locked down… very sorry. Somehow I hope this virus finds a way to go away.” 

Goodrich agrees.

Meanwhile, Melanie Sanchez feels the same way. Yes, she’s faced with the loss of her job. Her Husband works in another restaurant and he was furloughed Wednesday. But despite that, it’s Thanksgiving and she says tearfully, “I’m thankful for my health. I’m thankful for my family.”

Struggling amid uncertainty, LA County outdoor dining ban

Mike Camorlinga has worked at Lulu's for 41 of its 44 years here near the corner of Roscoe and Balboa. He started off as a busboy when he was 19.

Now, at 60, he’s the owner and very worried.

Says Camorlinga, “There’s so much uncertainty. We don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re in the red every month. In March, we lost about $100,000. So, we’re not making ends meet.”

He says business has gone so far south since the outbreak of COVID-19 and all of the LA County and the state's public health restrictions.

The latest round, of which, may spell the death of Lulu’s. He says, “We might have to close. We can’t survive the way we’re doing it. So, we either close down or we defy the order to the county and stay open and do what they need to do. We can’t pay a fine so if they need to take us to jail then that’s the way it is.”

Camorlinga has 33 employees; 33 families he feels he’s supporting. The average tenure here among the workers is 25 years.

But, the rent is high and the income right now is low. He says, “Our rent here is $21,000 a month. We’re losing $10,000 a month.” And, because Lulu’s has been around for almost half a century, customers have been coming to Camorlinga’s support. Of the many phone calls, he says, “they always start with I’m really sorry. They closed you down again. We’re here to support you and we’re going to order from you. So we had maybe 500 turkey meals this time around. It’s just unprecedented.”

So is this pandemic. While he’s very concerned about the situation when you ask him what he’s thankful for, he’ll tell you tearfully, “the employees. That’s my family. That’s what hurts, you know?”

He says the next few weeks will determine the future of Lulu’s Restaurant.

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