Kern restaurants on the brink of re-opening, but not all owners are ready


BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — This week the state agreed to loosen health criteria for a reopening of the economy, giving hope to many business owners — Kern County restaurant owners among them.

But, though the governor approved the county’s application for less stringent restrictions tied to COVID-19 cases, local restaurateurs were not all prepared to take advantage.

Normally you wouldn’t see empty tables in the banquet room at Wool Growers, the famed local Basque restaurant, during daylight hours. It would be packed — mostly with regulars.

But these aren’t normal times. It’s not clear from the governor’s initial OK for Kern County restaurants to re-open whether dining rooms might initially be limited to 50 percent or even 25 percent capacity.

“I think if he gives us an okay, we’re gonna try,” said Jenny Maitia Poncetta, whose family has owned Wool Growers since 1965. “I don’t know if we can do it by this weekend. I’m just hoping, I’m optimistic, that we can do it.”

“Twenty five percent (capacity limit) — I wouldn’t even know. I mean, we can’t we can’t make enough to pay for the lights or the employees and everything else — all your supplies. Fifty percent, we might break even. We’re certainly not going to make any money.”

Poncetta said she misses her regulars and they apparently miss her.

“We’ve actually had regulars calling me when we were closed, asking, ‘Do you have any idea when it’s going to open?’ Actually, I stopped hearing from them after a month. But I’ve had some of them come by to visit, say hi. They come here because they like to visit with their friends, you know, for the friendship and being around people. To come here and not be able to sit inside
Is not the same.”

Down the street at Luigi’s, another Old Town Kern institution, it was much the same — hope mixed with uncertainty. Cars were lined up in front for takeout and the Luigi’s deli was doing a brisk business.

One small group of customers brought their own lawn chairs and enjoyed a Luigi’s lunch in an adjacent parking lot. That’s what you call missing your favorite restaurant and refusing to be defeated.

They refuse to be defeated over at Wool Growers too. The employees are loyal, Poncetta says, and she herself feels the powerful pull of tradition. She, like others, just wish they knew what to expect and when to expect it.

What does that mean for diners dying to return to their old haunts? It means be prepared to hold your horses just a little longer — even if restaurants are allowed to open this weekend.

That’s the plan at another Bakersfield restaurant, whose owner asked to remain anonymous. On Wednesday she was doing a booming curbside business and her phones were ringing off the hook. But she says she’s not opening this weekend. She wants to feel like she’s safe, and her customers are safe, before she reopens.

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