Customer opinion | Robin Salzer: Roadmap to the Recovery of Our Beloved Pasadena Restaurants – Pasadena Now
If you didn’t already know, Pasadena has more restaurants per capita than almost any city in the United States.
When I opened Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ in 1982, there were over 260 restaurants in Pasadena.
Today, the sheer volume of mom and pop operations owned by local owners and national chains that have targeted Pasadena locations have catapulted our city into the food capital of Southern California.
On March 16, by local and state mandate, the restaurant industry as we know it changed forever.
The term “essential business” dictated success for some and failure for others. Our restaurants are some of Pasadena’s most essential businesses, both for the extraordinary food they offer but also for the incredible number of locally hired staff.
Full-service restaurants are essentially closed and allowed to only offer take-out and curbside deliveries. My former colleagues tell me that on a good day they could make 15-20% of the sales they made when they were open.
A casual, family-friendly, or full-service fine-dining restaurant will not survive or hold up solely on takeout and curbside delivery. When you factor in the 20 to 30 percent that national dinner delivery services charge to restaurants, they lose money with almost every delivery.
If this continues without intervention, it’s a menu for financial disaster. Our restaurateurs don’t expect an immediate pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but they do need to see a glow at the end of the closing tunnel.
The most adaptable and visionary cities and restaurants will find their own solutions focused on community, sustainability and simplicity.
COVID-19 will force the restaurant industry to fundamentally rethink what it means to be a restaurant. The possibilities are both terrifying and exhilarating. To move forward, there must be an open working dialogue with our municipal leaders, the health department and the restaurateurs.
The real danger is how we cope with the new decrees of our city council and our health department while abandoning much of our current business model to stem the flow of 2-3 months of financial distress while developing a plan to ensure success and sustainability once the municipality and state shutdown is lifted.
For once, let’s think outside the box. I implore the mayor and city council to be bold and visionary in balancing the needs of the city and the small business community.
Let’s do what’s in the best interest of Pasadena and the health and safety of our residents and customers.
Let’s shed some light on our restaurants and a plan of hope. This is my interpretation of the “Pasadena Way”.
My suggestions are as follows:
Put the minimum wage on the state timeline.
Raising the minimum wage to $ 15.00 on July 1 while dealing with the effects of the shutdown would be the last nail in the coffin for many small businesses.
Waive business license and health permit fees for all restaurants for up to one year if they are in full compliance with all new policies and procedures.
Start a city welcome commission made up of restaurateurs, hoteliers, a city councilor and city staff. This commission could be a branch of the PCOC or be autonomous. Stakeholders on this commission would bring first-hand customer service experience to help lead the food and beverage industry in Pasadena.
Rose Bowl concessions and any planned Pasadena event should be offered exclusively to Pasadena restaurants on a first right of refusal. Not all restaurants are built for offsite concessions, but it can be an incredible source of income for those interested. Pasadena restaurants should be featured at the Rose Bowl and at every event in the city. As with the business license, the restaurant’s annual health permit should also cover all off-establishment events.
Close Raymond’s Colorado Boulevard to Pasadena Avenues permanently so Old Pasadena restaurants on Colorado Boulevard can increase their outdoor seating. All restaurants may need to reduce their indoor seats by at least 50% due to possible new social distancing guidelines.
These restaurants located in our city’s highest rental zone could redefine the dining experience of Old Pasadena.
It would be festive, well lit, aromatic and it would be a godsend for the city, restaurants and retail stores. Traffic to and from Old Pasadena would continue west on Union Street and east on Green Street.
There would still be access to public and private parking lots on these two streets. Remember the 1994 World Cup. The same streets were closed for a week and it was an amazing experience for everyone.
I’ve known streets closed for dining in big cities like San Francisco, New York, and Chicago and it works.
Pasadena is expected to close South Lake Avenue from Green Street to San Pasqual Avenue. Traffic to and from the South Lake Avenue District would continue to use Shoppers Lane and Mentor Avenue to the east and Hudson Street to the west to access public and private parking lots. South Lake restaurants could extend their dining tables to their respective boulevard divider. I would offer a South Lake food court at Green Street Restaurant on Shoppers Lane and Magnolia House just past San Pasqual Avenue.
Both are important anchor points in the region. Again, it would be festive, lively, fun and our restaurants and retail stores in the area would flourish.
Necessary? Only if we want to be the best.
Pasadena is the diner destination so why not break the mold of the mundane and pull out all the stops. Now is the right time to refine and redefine Pasadena as our beloved city and as a food and travel destination.
When people think of Pasadena most often, they talk about the Rose Bowl, Cal Tech, JPL, Huntington Library, Norton Simon Museum and our restaurants.
Now is the time to put Pasadena on the map as California’s must-see food capital forever. This is Pasadena Road.