By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux
Indoor dining is gradually being allowed to resume in Orange County as state-mandated restrictions are lifted due to plunging COVID-19 numbers—so San Juan Capistrano Mayor John Taylor plans to encourage people to support local restaurants by dining at them himself.
Taylor is taking on the ambitious plan of visiting every restaurant in town, one by one, on Friday afternoons. He kicked off the tour at Mayfield Restaurant & Marketplace on April 2, joined by his son and city Planning Commissioner Harrison Taylor, as well as representatives of the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce and business community.
“It’s to highlight restaurants in town that have struggled this year, and now are kind of emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Taylor said. “I know people have supported restaurants with to-go food, but now as things are more safely reopening, it’s to get people out.”
Taylor plans to not just visit restaurants downtown—a popular area with locals and visitors, and a foodie hub that has become synonymous with San Juan to a degree—but also smaller restaurants outside the downtown hub. Taylor, who lives in the Los Rios Historic District and is serving a second term as mayor, has not previously dined at every restaurant in town.
Frontline restaurant workers have been hit hard by the pandemic, and the Friday visits will also be a chance for the Chamber to interface with local restaurants, Taylor said.
“I love the indoor/outdoor feel,” Taylor said when asked his impression of Mayfield. “I love the architecture. I think it’s great.”
Mayfield is a new restaurant and marketplace that opened in August near Rancho Capistrano Winery and the downtown movie theater. The cuisine is a mix of California and European flavors, and it also sells cookware and wine. Salads, grain bowls, burgers, and other dishes are on the menu. It is owned and operated by George Barker, who is from England and previously did food trucks in Orange County. Mayfield won several awards in the recent 2020 Best of San Juan Capistrano Golden Horseshoe Awards, including silver for best new restaurant.
Taylor’s future trips are expected to be open to anyone who wants to join him, though visitors will have to pay for their own meals. The visits and which restaurants they go to will likely be publicized by the Chamber and Taylor beforehand, including through social media.
“We’ll let the restaurant know that we’re coming, so they’re not blindsided by 30 people or something,” Taylor said.
Harrison Taylor said it could become where community members attend the Coffee Chat forums on Friday mornings, and then meet up for the restaurant trips later that afternoon.
“We’d love to have people engaged,” Chamber CEO and President George Peppas said. “That’s the whole point. We want to let everyone know we’re here. We’ve always been here for everyone. We’ve been behind the scenes trying to help out. We just need to make sure our foundation is stable.”
Peppas said the events can evolve as time goes on.
“(The restaurant industry) is critically important. It’s the heart and soul of our community,” Taylor said. “They come to the Mission (San Juan Capistrano). They come to an event. They want to dine, and that sales-tax revenue goes right into paving streets—hopefully, or whatever infrastructure.”
Businesses are a must, Peppas said.
“It’s allowing more growth, but the importance of restaurants is fellowship,” Peppas said.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.