La Jolla restaurants express worry as coronavirus again shuts down indoor dining in county

Nine-Ten at the Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla.
The general manager of Nine-Ten restaurant at the Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla says “having to again close our dining room to customers will be difficult to come back from a second time.”
(Elisabeth Frausto)

La Jolla restaurateurs say they are understanding of state and county edicts that again are shutting down indoor dining because of the coronavirus, but they’re concerned for their businesses, some of which barely survived the first round of closures from March through May.

With per-capita infection rates above state thresholds for seven consecutive days, San Diego County public health officials confirmed July 6 that a fresh set of sure-to-be-unpopular restrictions would start the next day.

As has occurred in other counties across the state that have ended up on the governor’s monitoring list, many businesses not considered essential must cease indoor activities for the next three weeks, shutting down or moving their operations outside where, statistics show, transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 is more difficult.

Starting at midnight, local restaurants, family entertainment locations such as bowling alleys and batting cages, wineries, movie theaters, zoos and museums must cease all indoor activities.

Businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores and medical offices, can continue indoor operations. And some enterprises initially deemed nonessential will be able to continue operating. Hair and nail salons will stay open for indoor business, as will retail establishments and gyms.

“While we certainly understand the need for caution, having to again close our dining room to customers will be difficult to come back from a second time,” said Terry Underwood, general manager of Nine-Ten at the Grande Colonial Hotel at 910 Prospect St. in La Jolla. “Nine-Ten’s outdoor dining space is limited, and we will likely not be able to accommodate enough customers to sustain for the long term. We remain hopeful that this new closure will be temporary and lifted by month end. At this point, though, it is a waiting game for all of us in the industry.”

Fabio Speziali, owner of Osteria Romantica at 2151 Avenida de la Playa in The Shores, echoed the worry. “The Shores is very seasonal. The summer is what carries us through the winter, so losing the summer is a very big deal.”

With indoor spaces closed, Speziali said he’ll have to make do with sidewalk tables.

“I have to stay open,” he said, “[but] I don’t know for how long. I’ll put some extra tables in any spot I find. We are in business for now; we are going to try to make it. These businesses, we are survivalists. It’s not going to be easy though.”

A La Jolla Shores Association proposal to have outdoor dining on a block of Avenida de la Playa was scrapped last week, which Speziali said is “such a pity. It would be such an easy thing to do. If only one person would be open-minded and go around the bureaucracy.”

With no resolution to a last-minute, expensive roadblock, the La Jolla Shores Association says it can’t proceed with its proposed outdoor dining on Avenida de la Playa.

Following the plan’s demise, Speziali said he will go to the city of San Diego to pursue a “parklet,” which would allow him to build a structure over the parallel parking outside Osteria Romantica and station tables there for up to 45 days.

However, Speziali said he’s losing time and is unsure the parklet would be approved and established with time enough to make it through most of the summer. “The parklet thing, unless [the city] approves it in two days, it won’t go through quickly enough. If we had known a month and a half ago, we would have gone that direction.”

In addition to restaurants, La Jolla museums and other indoor spaces are on the list to shutter their indoor operations.

The Birch Aquarium, which only reopened to the public July 4, will have to “continue to build on the success” of its virtual content, Birch marketing director Beth Chee said.

“When we closed back in March, we had to do a major pivot to focus on virtual content,” she said. “We launched a number of innovative new virtual programs, including weekly live talks with our aquarists and educators, virtual summer camps and a virtual lecture series.”

She said the aquarium will keep its husbandry team “working around the clock to care for the 6,000 animals in our care.”

The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library at 1008 Wall St. had been readying its library to reopen July 7 after being closed more than three months.

“We prepared and prepared; we wanted it to be just beautiful,” said Athenaeum Executive Director Erika Torri.

The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library on Wall Street in La Jolla.
The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library on Wall Street in La Jolla had been readying its library to reopen July 7.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Having to shut down again, the Athenaeum will nonetheless keep its staff working on the premises.

“We have a lot of things that need to get done,” Torri said, mentioning the ongoing work of digitizing the Athenaeum’s various collections. “We should have more things documented, and that is something we will do [in the meantime].”

Torri also said the Athenaeum will continue its curbside pickup of library items.

Torri noted the Athenaeum has been in La Jolla since 1899. “We will survive this,” she said.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said that while the shutdown move is not likely to be popular with the public, it is a necessary step to prevent future spikes in the number of admissions to local hospitals and intensive care units.

So far, daily numbers have not shown a significant surge, though some hospitals have seen recent increases in admissions that have increased the daily COVID-related census by about 100 patients.

As he has in the past, Fletcher said it’s important not to wait until hospitals see a large uptick in activity.

“If you wait until hospitals are overwhelmed, it is too late,” he said. ◆