By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
Two long-standing Little Tokyo restaurants will be closing their doors permanently at the end of this month, becoming casualties of the latest round of Los Angeles County COVID-19 restrictions.
Ebisu first opened in Little Tokyo 14 years ago and had recently expanded to add outdoor dining. Oreno Yakiniku has been serving Japanese-style barbecue since 2011. Both are part of the parent Bishamon Group, which operates 13 other Japanese restaurants throughout Southern California, including Daikokuya, Hachioji, Midoh, Tamon restaurant and Ohjah karaoke bar in Miyako Hotel Los Angeles, Bishamon restaurant, and Bishamon karaoke bar.
“I wish this wasn’t happening. It’s very sad,” lamented an Ebisu waitress who preferred not to be identified. She is one of about 20 employees who will be losing their jobs as a result of the two restaurant closings.
Little Tokyo had been experiencing a resurgence of the food service business with the permitting of outdoor dining in July. At the time, although revenue never reached pre-COVID levels, restaurants were able to hire back some of the employees laid off in mid-March.
Currently, there are a total of 92 restaurants operating in Little Tokyo and 60 retail stores. Other businesses that have announced their intention to close due to the pandemic include the Café Take 5 coffee shop. A few restaurants closed after the initial shutdown in March. Whether they will reopen next year is still a question.
An attempt on Nov. 24 by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn to reverse the L.A. County ban on outdoor dining was rejected by a 3-2 vote. On Nov. 27, new restrictions were issued.
New bans apply to nearly all social gatherings except those involving individuals from the same household. The new guidelines lower the maximum occupancy for essential retail businesses, including grocery stores, to 35 percent of capacity, while non-essential retail locations such as indoor shopping malls and personal care services such as nail salons can remain open at 20 percent of capacity.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, in a statement on Nov. 24, said: “It is a tragedy that we have come to this point. I am keenly aware that suspending outdoor dining will have a detrimental impact on our small businesses. But I’ve said time and time again that I will listen to our public health experts – and their recommendation is clear. None of us want to see this closure, but it is necessary to protect our collective well-being.
“To help businesses impacted by this restriction, the Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to my motion, on approving the appropriation of the county’s second CARES Act supplemental spending plan, to support restaurants, breweries and wineries. Additionally, on Dec. 8, the Board of Supervisors will vote on my motion to allocate $10 million to local restaurants to provide meals to vulnerable communities.
“However, it is indisputable that we need more economic stimulus, with money going directly into people’s pockets so they can stay safer at home. Congress must pass the RESTAURANTS Act and other recovery. And despite what’s been said, this restriction does not shut down restaurants, since take-out and delivery are still allowed.”
Beaches, trails, and parks will remain open, but individuals are required to wear a mask and keep at least six feet away from individuals outside their households. The same applies to golf courses, tennis courts, skate parks, and other outdoor recreational venues.
All indoor and outdoor service at bars, restaurants, wineries, and breweries remain prohibited, but takeout and delivery may continue.