Pasjoli, shown here shortly before it opened last fall, will not be able to sustain itself without government assistance if the coronavirus pandemic continues for months. (File photo)

With state orders to close nonessential businesses and lack of consumer demand, eleven Santa Monica have closed and restaurants are trying to stay open on delivery and takeout alone, earning nowhere near the amount of money needed to keep all of their workers and pay their rent. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic, nearly one in five people working in Santa Monica were employed in the city’s nearly 40 hotels and more than 600 restaurants, according to economic data compiled by the city of Santa Monica. Though City Hall has put a temporary moratorium on evictions for residents and businesses financially impacted by coronavirus, many workers who until last week kept Santa Monica’s hospitality industry running live in nearby cities that have not yet halted evictions and have no way to pay their rent next week. 

But in the midst of the crisis, hospitality unions and organizations are building solidarity to try to keep the pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused from permanently crippling the industry and its workers.

Los Angeles resident Liliana Hernandez worked as a housekeeper at the Fairmont Miramar for seven years before she was laid off last week. Her husband and many of her neighbors have also lost their jobs in the hospitality industry.

Hernandez’s union, Unite Here Local 11, has organized food banks for its members and their families, helped them apply for unemployment benefits and sent them leads for union jobs at grocery stores. (Almost all Santa Monica grocery stores are hiring, as are many fast-food chains, delivery platforms and dispensaries.) The union is also lobbying the city of Los Angeles to give workers who have been laid off the right to return to their jobs after the pandemic is over.

Hernandez said the support from the union has allowed her to continue putting food on the table, and her landlord told her she can pay her rent late. But she won’t be able to pay rent at all if she doesn’t return to work or find a new job soon. 

“We are in a precarious condition right now,” she said.

Ann Hsing, chief operating officer at Santa Monica restaurants Dialogue and Pasjoli, said she barely slept for a week as the restaurants’ staff worked overtime to create takeout and delivery menus from scratch. She said she has started to question if the challenge is worth it financially, since takeout and delivery don’t generate anywhere near as much revenue as in-house dining, especially with the 20% to 30% cut that delivery apps take on each order.

Dialogue and Pasjoli will not be able to reopen if the pandemic lasts for months and drains the restaurants’ cash reserves, Hsing said.

“There’s no indication of how long this is going to be, so I can’t plan for it,” she said. “It’s a moving target, and the bills are not moving with the target.”

A $2 trillion stimulus package the Senate passed Wednesday that will extend hundreds of billions in loans to small businesses may provide some relief, but it’s unclear how much money will be set aside for the hospitality industry. 

That’s why Hsing isn’t waiting for the government to distribute assistance. Over the past two weeks, she has brought together more than 150 independent restaurants, cafes, bakeries bars, nightclubs and boutique hotels across Los Angeles under the banner of the L.A. Independent Hospitality Coalition. 

The coalition is lobbying the state of California to provide cash assistance and business interruption insurance to the hospitality industry and waive rent and mortgage payments through incentives to restaurants and their landlords.

“A lot of us are going to run out of cash soon … because of something out of our control,” Hsing said. “For a lot of small hospitality businesses in L.A., time is running out and they don’t know what their government is going to do to help them.”

Hospitality industry organizations have also set up funds to provide cash assistance to workers and businesses. For an updated list of resources, visit www.restaurantworkerscf.org/news/2020/3/15/resources-for-restaurants-and-workers-coping-with-the-covid-19-emergency.

madeleine@smdp.com

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