By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux
When a regional stay-at-home order was issued in Southern California due to rising coronavirus cases—and prohibiting dine-in service at restaurants in the process—some people in San Juan Capistrano and South Orange County pushed for Heritage Barbecue to stay open.
First, though, co-owner Daniel Castillo wanted to talk to his employees.
“It’s not just up to me,” Castillo said. “I sat down with my team. Some people had family members with health issues. We had to take that into account.”
The popular barbecue spot in San Juan decided to close in-person dining service and stay open for pre-order takeout, as permitted under state guidelines. Castillo said they will not be fully open in defiance of regulations since they want to make the right decision, given the “big spotlight” they attract in the local restaurant scene.
Whereas hungry patrons had formed long lines going down the street before current restrictions, now people walking or driving by may see only a handful of customers waiting on the sidewalk for their takeout order.
“It seems, this time around, people are staying home more than the first time,” Castillo said.
Pivoting to takeout service has been an adjustment for Heritage Barbecue, which previously sold on-the-spot walk-up orders. During the current stay-at-home order, Heritage Barbecue has generally been cooking about half of what they had before the latest restrictions.
A bad week could cause them to completely close their doors, Castillo said. He has already had to furlough five employees.
“It doesn’t matter how many accolades you get,” Castillo said. “Nobody’s safe. Our restaurant thrives on selling in volume.”
Castillo noted that some restaurants in Los Angeles have had to close, and said a few weeks of reduced business could impact their own operations. Paying their employees a living wage and using high-end produce factor into Heritage Barbecue’s operating costs.
“It costs more money, puts us in the hole, to stay open,” Castillo said.
Heritage Barbecue first opened in San Juan Capistrano in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, on Aug. 8.
Around the corner, Trevor’s at the Tracks is completely closed. Chairs and tables have been removed from the outside patio, which is usually a hub of cheerful conversation and live music. Owner Trevor Baird said transitioning to takeout orders is not a viable option for them.
“We want to be part of the solution, and given our volume, for which we are very grateful, and other circumstances, we felt it best to close for now,” Baird said. “The hardest part in any of this has been to let the staff go, for the second time, and this time, right before the holidays! Yet we are optimistic.”
Baird said he trusts the current situation will be short-lived, enabling them to reopen when the time is right, strong as ever.
“We will continue to monitor the fluid situation and come back when ready in 2021!” Baird said.
The San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce has joined the Save Small Business Coalition, a coalition of more than 80 California Chambers and business organizations pushing back on state-mandated business restrictions, according to a statement from the SJC Chamber. The Save Small Business Coalition sent a letter to state officials on Dec. 8, denouncing adverse effects on small businesses.
State Sen. Patricia Bates and 10 other state senators have called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to reclassify restaurants as essential services, citing devastating impacts to restaurants brought about by the latest COVID-19 guidelines.
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 email@example.com.