Whisknladle, a popular La Jolla restaurant that closed March 16 because of government mandates that shut down eateries’ dine-in service to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, is staying closed for good, even as other local restaurants prepare to reopen dine-in service.
San Diego County officials earlier this week submitted to the state a plan to allow restaurants to resume dine-in with social distancing and other requirements and for retail stores to reopen for inside shopping. The county received word late May 20 that its request was approved.
La Jolla’s Trilogy Sanctuary, at 7650 Girard Ave., reopened its vegan cafe Friday, May 22, and said its retail shop will open May 23.
“We’re doing above and beyond state-mandated safety precautions. We want to make people feel safe,” marketing director Keith Donohue said.
Trilogy placed signs to remind cafe patrons to stay six feet apart, and it plans to clean the restroom after each use. Taking advantage of the cafe’s outdoor rooftop space, tables are spaced 10 feet apart.
“We’re all about being an open community,” Donohue said. “It’s so nice to look someone in the eyes instead of through a screen.”
On the other hand, Whisknladle’s managing partner, Arturo Kassel, and chef, Ryan Johnston, said in a May 20 statement on social media announcing the restaurant’s farewell that “after much deliberation about how to reopen and survive in the COVID era, we have concluded there is simply no real viable path forward for Whisknladle.”
Kassel said in an interview May 22 that he realized “we would not be able to provide a dining experience that came anywhere close to meeting the Whisknladle standard. We would sustain heavy losses in the six-plus months following the reopening, no matter what actions we took.”
Kassel said “Whisk ran on passion and was built for quality, not efficiency or high profit margins. Our options were too limited to put together a viable survival plan … in this COVID environment.”
Whisknladle’s sister restaurants, Catania in La Jolla and Gravity Heights and Park Commons in Sorrento Mesa, will continue, according to the statement. Catania is expected to reopen for dine-in Wednesday, June 3.
“We intend on meeting or exceeding health department guidelines but doing so in a thoughtful manner that still provides a worthy dining experience for our guests,” Kassel said.
Whisknladle, at 1044 Wall St., opened in February 2008 and was known for its pastas, salads, seafood and more.
“While we had dreamed Whisk would be one of those institutions that could withstand the test of time, 12-plus years in restaurant terms is something we can be proud of,” Kassel and Johnston said in their statement. “Now more than ever, we urge all of you reading this to find ways to support your favorite restaurants or local businesses so that they have a fighting chance.”
Also closing is Rusty Boardhouse La Jolla, seller of Rusty surfboards. After more than 28 years at 2170 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores, the shop has shut down. The Del Mar location remains open, and a small retail store will open soon near its Miramar factory.
Co-owner Angie Preisendorfer, who founded the company with her former husband Rusty, said the closure was a result of a “combination of things,” including a reduction in sales and an increase in rent.
“Sales have been horrible for the last three years because of construction [along Avenida de la Playa] and people not coming down to the shores,” she said. “Plus, our lease was up for renewal and the landlord raised the rent. We were in rent negotiations before things were shut down [because of the coronavirus pandemic]. ... The shutdown just killed us.”
“I’ll miss it,” she said. “But I still live in La Jolla Shores, so I’ll still be around. It will just be a little different.”
Though restaurants and shops can reopen, they must first fill out the county’s Safe Reopening Plan form and post it publicly.
The county Department of Environmental Health previously notified restaurant operators of what steps they will be required to take before reopening dine-in service. Among the measures are conducting thermal or temperature scans of employees daily; spacing all tables six feet apart or, if unmovable, installing a barrier between tables; requiring diners to wear facial coverings when not seated at their table; and disinfecting restrooms and “high contact touch points” frequently. Tableside food preparation and self-serve buffets and salad bars are prohibited.
Among La Jolla restaurants, Sylvie Diot, owner of Bistro du Marché, said she has listened to webinars from the California Restaurant Association about reopening and has plans to retrain her employees. “They will be approaching customers in a different way,” she said.
She said her restaurant’s reopening will “take a week or two, I’m not sure. We need to make sure guests, employees, suppliers, everybody is safe.”
George’s at the Cove is preparing to open two of its three levels, Ocean Terrace and Level2, on Monday, June 1, and the other, California Modern, a week later.
The restaurant posted a long list of safety measures at georgesatthecove.com.
Wheat & Water in Bird Rock is expanding its takeout service to seven days a week and adding delivery May 22.
Owner Doug Ritz said the restaurant also is converting part of its parking lot into patio space “to allow for complete social-distance dining. People can come and feel a little more normal but also follow the guidelines that will keep them the most safe.”
Ritz estimated Wheat & Water can welcome dine-in patrons starting Friday, June 5.
Amber Johnson, owner of Sushi on the Rock, said she was shocked when she heard the county had decided to allow restaurants to welcome customers again.
“I feel like it’s too soon,” she said. “I feel like our takeout is safe, and that’s where we are right now. There’s just too much uncertainty — we want to see those [COVID-19] numbers continue to go down.”
The decision has been well-received by her customers, Johnson said.
“I had three phone calls ... from regulars who asked if we were planning to open for in-dining,” Johnson said. “When I said, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not,’ their response was, ‘Oh, don’t apologize. If you were, we were considering not ordering from you anymore.’
“They didn’t even want to order takeout if we reopened because that safety barrier is broken.”
Among retail stores, Bill White of the Ascot Shop men’s clothing boutique on Girard Avenue said he plans to reopen indoor shopping Tuesday, May 26.
The store plans to implement enhanced cleaning and sanitation daily and after every transaction, White said, with hand sanitizer available throughout the store.
Employees will be required to wear masks and have their temperature taken daily before the store opens, he said. Masks will be available for free to all shoppers who don’t have one.
White said the store plans to open on a reduced schedule Tuesdays through Saturdays, with only himself and his son Andy on duty and appointments available before or after regular hours.
Everett Stuntz, a bed and bath store on Girard, said it reopened May 19, “following mandated COVID-19 rules.” It did not elaborate.
“It feels strange — virtually no customers yet or phone calls,” Philip Coller, Everett Stuntz’s chief financial officer, said May 21. “It is very difficult getting the word out, and people are not venturing out to shop. We believe most people are nervous, [and] they are not sure whether the store is open or not.
“It’s going to be difficult to recover. The 2008 crisis nearly closed us; unless customers start coming back soon, this is the end.”
The La Jolla Village Merchants Association is distributing copies of a colorful poster for local shops and restaurants to post at their entrances urging people to wear masks, practice 6-foot social distancing, wash their hands often, avoid physical contact and not enter a business if they feel sick.
Many La Jolla businesses opened curbside walk-up shopping earlier this month after coronavirus restrictions were eased. Retailers previously had been limited to pickup and delivery or forced to close altogether.
The county is now eligible to advance further into Stage 2 of California’s Resiliency Roadmap because it hit several of the revised reopening criteria laid out by the governor, including experiencing a stabilization of new COVID-19 cases and having appropriate testing and hospital capacity.
For example, the new rules require counties to have no more than 8 percent of tests conducted coming back positive, a threshold San Diego County is meeting with a rolling two-week average of positive tests at less than 5 percent.
La Valencia Hotel returns
La Jolla’s La Valencia Hotel reopened May 22 after being closed since March 27 because of the coronavirus crisis.
The hotel, at 1132 Prospect St., plans to offer to-go food and beverage service and will reopen its restaurants, including The Med and Cafe La Rue, at a date to be determined, according to La Valencia marketing manager Annalise Dewhurst.
“We are excited to finally be opening the property, even under limited services,” Dewhurst said in an email. “We continue to be committed to providing a clean and safe environment for our guests and team members. Our team has been hard at work preparing for the reopening and we’ve implemented enhanced cleaning, sanitation and social distancing protocols.”
For more information on La Valencia’s reopening plan, go to lavalencia.com/travel-information-for-covid-19.
Westfield UTC to open May 29
Westfield UTC mall on La Jolla Village Drive said it will welcome customers Friday, May 29, with modified hours — 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Individual retailer hours may vary.
According to a statement, the center will implement health and safety protocols including:
- Enforcing social distancing, face mask requirements and other measures
- Increasing the frequency of cleaning with a focus on high-touch areas such as restrooms, play areas, dining areas and water fountains
- Monitoring and controlling the number of guests entering the center and in lines
Westfield will continue its Answers on the Spot program, which provides a real-time response via text or webchat from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily to questions about store and center hours, promotions and other topics. Access the service by texting (858) 914-2752.
Light staff writer Ashley Mackin-Solomon and The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report. ◆