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Local restaurant owners and supportive organizations work together to continue serving the community amid new restrictions 

SUPPORTING LOCAL EATERIES Restaurant owners and supportive business organizations are creatively keeping in touch with the community.

File Photo By Kaori Funahashi

SUPPORTING LOCAL EATERIES Restaurant owners and supportive business organizations are creatively keeping in touch with the community.

Greg Holt, executive chef and owner of Big Sky Cafe, said even though he can't have dine-in customers he's still busy running his restaurant.

Holt's restaurant and many others throughout San Luis Obispo County were subject to Gov. Gavin Newsom's order of reducing their occupancy by half in an effort to enforce social distancing.

The governor suggested that eateries provide curbside food service, delivery, and pick-up.

To ensure his staff and customers are practicing safe measures—including social distancing, washing hands, keeping the entire restaurant clean—Big Sky customers can call in their order for pickup or delivery. When the customer arrives, an employee takes the food outside to the customer.

As a "thank you for the support," customers that order take-out automatically receive a 15 percent discount on their meal.

Holt also started creating family meal packages. For $50, a family can take home a quart of gumbo yaya, Rutiz Farms papas bravas and crispy cauliflower, green salad, cornbread, and salsa verde dipping sauce.

"Maybe they'll have food for a couple of days and they can stay home longer," he said.

Holt isn't worried about his business; he's worried about his employees and his responsibility to continue taking care of his customers.

Given the current situation, he's had to reduce his entire staff to minimum wage.

"I'm responsible for the 40 employees I have and they mean a lot to me. I'm in there working with them, right next to them, and we're doing this together," Holt said.

Uplifting businesses and connecting them with the community has always been the role of the SLO Downtown Association, CEO Bettina Swigger said.

She said the association has had to switch gears as San Luis Obispo observes the shelter-at-home executive order.

Sixty percent of the association's time was spent planning and executing large-scale events, she said, but it won't be doing that for the foreseeable future. The team is now putting all their resources into marketing and communications to tell a business' story and keep the community connected with them.

The effort started two weeks ago when Swigger reached out to members of the International Downtown Association and The National Main Street Organization—both of which the Downtown SLO Association is a part of—to see whether other communities were already grappling with the impacts of COVID-19 and how they were supporting their business communities.

Locally, the association has partnered with the city of SLO to create curb pick-up zones in the 30-minute metered spots. Customers can park in any of the 40 designated spots throughout downtown and wait in their cars for their pre-ordered food for as long as necessary without being ticketed.

On the association's website, a virtual downtown SLO highlights all the restaurants and coffee shops that are doing pick-up and delivery, lists their current hours of operation, and how to place an order (typically via phone call).

"I think the people who work in restaurants and retail are some of the most creative and hardworking people you'll know," Swigger said.

She referred to the unique ways that restaurant owners have been offering food and drink to their customers: Sidecar is selling pre-batched cocktails; Novo has been selling produce, grocery items, and pre-made soups; and because the farmers' market is postponed, Mistura offered elote.

In partnership with the association, San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jim Dantona said the chamber is working closely with local and state representatives to advocate for rapid action to help businesses, especially those in the hospitality and retail industries.

"They are stepping up to help keep the most vulnerable among us safe even though it means an enormous hit to their business," Dantona said via email.

Currently, the chamber is encouraging all restaurants to tag them in their social media posts, @SLOChamber, so the organization can reshare with its social media audience how to support their favorite restaurants.

The organization is working with the South County Chamber and other chambers across the region to launch a "Take Out Tuesday" campaign. Each Tuesday, he said, the chamber will encourage residents to order delivery and take-out from their favorite restaurants to support them during this time.

Dantona said as isolation becomes a matter of safety, the chamber and the community has another responsibility of staying connected and supporting one another.

"A sense of belonging propels business success, it's vital to personal happiness, and our deep interconnectedness is one of the things that makes San Luis so special," he said. "And this community is showing just how good they are at that."

For small business owners who are still in need of assistance, at the beginning of March, Congress authorized up to $7 billion for small business disaster loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA)—loans that are issued directly by the government.

Businesses in California and San Luis Obispo County, specifically, are eligible for disaster loans due to the coronavirus. The loan has a maximum interest rate of 3.75 percent, and the deadline for filing an application is Dec. 16, 2020. Δ

Staff writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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