Coronavirus Consequences: More than half of San Diego County restaurants have completely closed, industry leaders say

Government mandates in March 2020 to ban California restaurants from being allowed to offer dine-in — due to hopes of reducing the spread of coronavirus — have forced thousands of restaurants to close permanently and also resulted in thousands more people to be out of jobs.
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Multiple aid programs are being launched for restaurants, their employees, other businesses


An estimated 60 percent of restaurants in San Diego County have chosen to close completely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, instead of continuing operations focused on take-out and deliveries, the California Restaurant Association said March 23, 2020; ever since recent County and City regulations have banned restaurants from offering dine-in.

To help affected employees of local eateries, the restaurant association has launched a “Restaurants Care” program that is accepting donations, including an initial $100,000 from the owners of Skrewball Whiskey in Ocean Beach.

Meanwhile restaurants in South County are eligible for 50 loans of $5,000 each under a new program announced Monday by the South County Economic Development Council.

Also county officials announced they have approved a six-month deferral of environmental health permit fees for restaurants. The annual fees range from $753 to $1,930 depending on the size of the restaurant.

County officials have also asked their staff to explore ways to clear any barriers to re-opening that some restaurants might face once that becomes possible.

The Restaurant Association efforts and the new county initiatives were announced at a joint downtown news conference that also featured leaders from several other local organizations.

The San Diego Food Bank announced it is stepping up its deliveries and drop-offs to those who can’t afford restaurants or groceries. The Food Bank also is seeking more volunteers and donations during the pandemic.

City of San Diego officials said they are continuing to implement a $4 million economic relief package that will include small business loans, fee deferrals and extensions of building permits.

And the North San Diego Business Chamber is providing daily updates at with helpful resources, including links to the United Way and disaster loan programs from the Small Business Administration.

Restaurant closures and the impact on their employees were the primary focus of the 30-minute news conference, which was held March 23 at the County Administration Center on Pacific Highway.

“We are estimating that about 60 percent of all of our restaurants have closed,” said Jeff Rosssman, president of the local chapter of the California Restaurant Association. “You can imagine how many thousands and thousands of employees have been affected.”

Rossman said many restaurants have had to transform themselves overnight into businesses focused on takeout and deliveries, instead of serving customers who eat in. Some have added new menu items, such as bake-at-home pizza, he said.

One positive has been loosened state regulations allowing restaurants to deliver beer, wine and cocktails during the pandemic to boost their revenue, he said.

Many restaurants also have had to increase their sanitizing efforts and implement new safety procedures to recognize social distancing.

“We’re an extremely safe environment,” Rossman said. “We are going to come out of this, but please, please help out your restaurants.”

The website has a list of restaurants offering take-out and delivery options during the crisis.

The association also has launched a “restaurants care” program that aims to provide one-time support grants to restaurant employees facing hardships with gas, utilities, rent or other basic living needs.

“Please donate so we can say ‘yes chef!’ to all the deserving foodservice workers in dire need of help,” says the new program’s website and for details, visit that site or text “restaurant” to 91999.

The $5,000 loans from the South County Economic Development Council come with no monthly payments and no interest fees, and full repayment isn’t required until April 1, 2021.

The small infusion of funds is intended to assist South County small restaurants to remain open and continue to provide meals, the council said in a news release.

The loans also have no application fees and no pre-payment penalties. Applications can be submitted online at

Meanwhile, San Diego Food Bank president Jim Floros said his organization is ramping up its efforts.

“Our programs will continue during this crisis — there’s enough food,” he said. “The infrastructure is there; the distribution model is there; the supply chain is there.”

The bank has delivered 400,000 pounds of food to its 500 nonprofit partners during the last four days, Floros said. There have been 275 distributions since the March 12 state of emergency declaration in California, he said, and another 100 distributions are planned for this week. For details, visit or call (800) 350-3663.

Phil Pace, owner of Phil’s BBQ, said at the March 23 news conference that many restaurants are focused on remaining prepared to re-open when that becomes possible.

“Being in the restaurant business, you have to have answers all the time, and they’ve got to be quick,” Pace said.

County Supervisor Jim Desmond offered similar sentiments. “When this health order is lifted, we must quickly get people back to work, our businesses open and our economy back to thriving,” Desmond said. “While we’re still in the midst of this coronavirus storm, we must plan for the best out of a bad experience.”