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COVID-19

The challenges of opening a restaurant during a pandemic

David Weinberg Dec 24, 2020
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Restaurateur Gabriel Paredes and his staff transformed the parking lot behind the restaurant into an outdoor dining space with wood walls and multiple levels. Richard Hozack
COVID-19

The challenges of opening a restaurant during a pandemic

David Weinberg Dec 24, 2020
Heard on:
Restaurateur Gabriel Paredes and his staff transformed the parking lot behind the restaurant into an outdoor dining space with wood walls and multiple levels. Richard Hozack
HTML EMBED:
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On a recent Wednesday night in Highland Park, a neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles, the head chef at Nativo, Danielle Duran-Zecca, was in the kitchen putting the final touches on a potato chorizo taco before handing it off to a server. 

Duran-Zecca designed the menu here, which features an array of dishes that combines the flavors of Mexico and Italy. “I am a Mexican, my husband is Italian. So I love to combine the best of both worlds,” said Duran-Zecca.

Out back, the parking lot had been transformed into a dining space with wood walls and multiple levels. Mexican blankets were draped over bales of hay for seating. A young couple with a baby was taking selfies underneath a spinning disco ball hanging from a tree, as the bar manager Grace Perez strolled by holding a bundle of burning sage. “I feel like we all need a cleansing sometimes,” Perez said, with a laugh.

The vibe is festive, but there’s an undercurrent of sadness and uncertainty among the staff. Because tonight is the last night of dining before a countywide ban on outdoor dining brings a sudden end to what had been an opening week of full reservations.

“My wife and I, we sold everything to make this come true,” said Gabriel Paredes, choking back tears. “Sorry, I feel silly getting emotional about it.”

Gabriel Paredes in front of Nativo, the restaurant he and his wife opened in the neighborhood where he grew up.
Gabriel Paredes in front of Nativo, the restaurant he and his wife opened in the neighborhood where he grew up. (Credit: Richard Hozack)

Paredes and his wife, Corissa Hernandez Paredes, are the owners of Nativo.

It means a lot to Paredes that he was able to open his own restaurant here in the neighborhood where he grew up. His parents came to LA from Mexico before he was born. As a kid, he walked the streets of Highland Park with his dad, selling boots to make ends meet. “I’ve had friends get killed on this street we are on, and it’s just awesome to come back and be able to create jobs and contribute,” Paredes said.

Before the outdoor dining ban, he had a staff of about 40 people. Prior to opening Nativo, Peredes and and his wife started a financial planning company that they ran for 14 years.

“Our market was low- to middle-income families that had been overlooked by the financial industry. So we really focused on educating them on finances. Just couldn’t do it though. It wasn’t my passion. The only other thing I knew how to do or really understood was beer. I didn’t go to college. so I said ‘Let’s open up a bar of some sort,’” said Paredes.

Paredes modeled the color of Nativo on Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Mexico City.
Paredes modeled the color of Nativo’s exterior on Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico City. (Credit: Richard Hozack)

He knows the risk of opening a restaurant, and that the stakes are much higher for people like himself who don’t have the economic safety net of generational wealth.

“People in my age group, we are not only taking care of our kids but we are also taking care of our parents, he said.

Paredes said he pays his parents’ mortgage on a condo. He sold his childhood home to open Nativo. So a lot is riding on his restaurant.

“If you don’t hit your dream, you are done and you won’t be able to support your parents and the people that are relying on you, such as kids,” he said.

For now, Nativo is offering takeout only, which allows Paredes to at least keep the kitchen staff employed until outdoor dining can resume.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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