‘Come dine with us’: Judge’s ruling leads some La Jolla eateries to reopen for onsite dining

Beaumont's in Bird Rock is back open Dec. 17.
Beaumont’s in Bird Rock, which switched to a drive-through format after regional closures shut down in-person dining Dec. 7, was open again Dec. 17.

Following a Dec. 16 ruling and a clarification the next day from a San Diego County Superior Court judge that coronavirus-related restrictions limiting restaurants to takeout service were no longer applicable, several La Jolla restaurants reopened for onsite dining service.

Restaurants, along with several other businesses, were asked to close their doors Dec. 7 to in-person dining after the state enacted regional closures based on the region’s hospital intensive care capacity dropping below 15 percent.

Judge Joel Wohlfeil ruled in a case filed by adult entertainment clubs that the state and county had not provided sufficient evidence that restaurants and live entertainment venues operating with safety measures in place contributed to the spread of COVID-19.

County officials announced late Dec. 16 that they would no longer enforce restrictions against restaurants and live entertainment venues. The state sought to block Wohlfeil’s ruling.

A short while after the judgment and the county’s announcement, some La Jolla restaurants announced plans to reopen their doors. Wheat & Water in Bird Rock posted on Instagram on Dec. 16 that it would be open for business starting Dec. 17.

“It’s unlawful to close us down when we wear masks, social distance, wash hands and abide by every other law,” the post read. “Come dine with us.”

Wheat & Water owner Doug Ritz later told the La Jolla Light: “Unfortunately, takeout order sales do not cover the costs of operating a full-service restaurant. Small businesses need help now. ... For now, we will take advantage of all permitted options to stay in business.”

However, the reopening window closed quickly when the California 4th District Court of Appeal issued a stay Dec. 18 halting Wohlfeil’s ruling after the state made an emergency application, arguing that the judge had undercut public health orders aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

State lawyers say the stay is needed to protect public health as the COVID-19 pandemic surges.

Dec. 18, 2020

Osteria Romantica in La Jolla Shores posted on Instagram on Dec. 17 that it would be open for business starting that night. Owner Fabio Speziali said in an email to the Light that “we will be open for outdoor only for now, until I understand exactly what are the limits of the law.”

The La Valencia Hotel in The Village posted on Instagram on Dec. 17 that it would reopen for dine-in service that day. In a statement to the Light, General Manager Summer Shoemaker said: “We are delighted to bring back many of our restaurant team members to serve our dining community safely and we will continue to follow all COVID-19 cleaning and sanitation protocols. We will also continue to provide to-go dining for guests to enjoy in the comfort of their homes.”

Osteria Romantica was open for outdoor dining Dec. 17.
(Daniel K. Lew)

Beaumont’s in Bird Rock, which implemented a drive-through a few days before in response to the regional closures, “will keep the drive-through and offer outside tables” starting Dec. 17, owner Megan Heine said.

Heine, who also owns Brockton Villa in The Village, said Brockton Villa planned to reopen Saturday, Dec. 19, for outside dining.

However, not all La Jolla eateries were following suit. Catania in The Village posted Dec. 18 on Instagram that it was choosing to remain closed. “At this time, we are not open for dine-in service,” the post read. “Our first priority is the health and safety of our guests and our team and we want to make sure that any decisions made reflect that.”

“For now we will wait patiently for a better idea of what this all means and how to navigate what comes next without having to repeat it all over again,” the post continued. Catania remains open for takeout and delivery daily.

The week before Wohlfeil’s ruling, the La Jolla Village Merchants Association distributed an online petition started by restaurateurs and retailers in Little Italy asking that outdoor dining resume at facilities that can safely offer it. In two emails, LJVMA Executive Director Jodi Rudick encouraged business owners to sign.

“On behalf of the merchants in La Jolla and the over 7,000 San Diego County residents employed in La Jolla Village prior to COVID-19, we would like to add our support of this resolution,” according to a statement. “Many of our merchants went to great expense to meet necessary state, city and [Centers for Disease Control] requirements to offer and build-out outdoor dining and shopping options since the city of San Diego released its temporary outdoor business permit program. ... Further, the city of San Diego recently released a memo extending these permits through September 2021, which sparked new interest and investment in the program for additional merchants in recent weeks.

“The governor’s recent stay-at-home orders have shut down these outdoor dining expansions at a crucial time for our merchants, also shutting down their ability to recoup costs associated with expansions. ... We understand there is a surge in COVID cases but see no evidence that outdoor business expansions have led to the surge.”

In response to Wohlfeil’s ruling, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria issued a statement that read “the city of San Diego is working closely with the county and the state to determine the implications of Judge Wohlfeil’s ruling. No one wants our small businesses to be closed, but the science and data are showing a dire trend in hospitalizations and deaths. Over 1,200 have died in San Diego County, and the ICU capacity in Southern California has dropped to zero.

“We have a collective obligation to accept the personal responsibility of keeping each other safe. I am asking San Diegans to continue to stay home as much as possible, wear a mask, avoid large gatherings and order to-go to support small businesses. The health of our local economy hinges on the health of San Diegans.”

The Light reached out to District 1 City Councilman Joe LaCava for comment but did not immediately receive a reply.

— La Jolla Light staff writer Ashley Mackin-Solomon and The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.