Restaurants defy closure orders to keep businesses alive

The Race
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ENCINITAS, Calif. — Many restaurants are staying open across the country, despite local and state mandates to keep their doors closed. Many say their survival depends on getting more business.

“This year’s been a rollercoaster ride for sure,” said Paula Vrakas, owner of The Roxy in Encinitas and Denver.

Every twist and turn is taking a toll on livelihoods and emotions.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride. The ups and the downs, not knowing from one day to the next whether you’re actually going to be stocking the fridges or closed down two days later,” said Tommaso Maggiore, owner of Encinitas Ale House.

“It’s been mentally and emotionally more than anyone should ever have to deal with,” said Vrakas.

But for Vrakas, there’s been one constant.

“I would go to jail 100 times over for this staff,” she said.

After shutting her Encinitas restaurant down, Vrakas reopened, despite state mandates ordering them to remain closed.

“The reason was pretty simple: my staff would not be able to make their rent. It was that easy,” said Vrakas.

In addition to their liquor license being threatened, she says they’ve faced potential fines and criminal charges.

“None of that mattered,” said Vrakas. “My staff is grateful. They show that by showing up. They show that by picking up shifts. They show that by working longer hours. they show that by being safe.”

In recent weeks, hundreds of other businesses have followed suit, says attorney Michael Curran of Curran & Curran Law.

“What we told them is open safely,” said Curran.

He and his wife are offering free legal guidance to business owners nationwide who want to reopen.

“We literally had a dozen or so of our restaurants say, ‘If it wasn’t for you guys, if it wasn’t for this movement, we were going to turn in the keys. We were done,'” said Curran.

He says owners are keeping their businesses open as part of a constitutionally protected, peaceful protest.

And while California has lifted statewide COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and allowed restaurants to reopen, they’re still limited to outdoor dining.

“Our goal is to get the restaurants, the salons, and the bars open, no conditions and doing it safely,” said Curran.

Business owners say they recognize health challenges brought on by the pandemic but don’t believe blanket policies are the solution.

“If everybody stays at home, places like this close down, and they may never open up, and that’s just another piece of the community you’ve lost,” said Maggiore.

And while Vrakas has been able to keep her Encinitas restaurant open, her Denver location remains closed.

“It just doesn’t work in colder climates, places like New York or Denver, or even Seattle. It makes it unenjoyable to go outside.”

Unsure when the rollercoaster ride will end, Vrakas is doing what she can to keep her staff employed and get musicians working through live music events at the restaurant.

“I’ve always said live music feeds your soul, makes your soul smile, and I think right now, we as individuals and people that have been dealing with this pandemic for almost a year, we need our souls to smile again,” Vrakas said.

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