Local residents joined together Saturday afternoon at the parklet in front of Tres Lune restaurant along Coast Village Road in Montecito, speaking out against health orders that have closed both indoor and outdoor dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dozens donning masks showed up in support of the Montecito Italian restaurant, as well as other local eateries that have been forced to shut down as coronavirus cases surge.
Gene Montesano, owner of Tres Lune and other local restaurants, said that Saturday’s demonstration was about the employees who continue to suffer financially due to the COVID crisis, many of whom may not get a Christmas because they are out of work.
“They’re not going to have presents for their kids, and they’re not going to have a holiday,” he said. “It’s a crime as far as I’m concerned.”
Mr. Montesano said they’ve had to lay off 73 employees in recent weeks due to the new orders. Tres Lune General Manager Leslee Garafalo said that half of the restaurant’s front staff had been let go, which she said was “horrible” to do during the holidays.
“It’s a gigantic pain. We had to lay off staff, then we have to gamble that they’re going to find some place else to work in another county or another state and not be able to get them back,” explained Mr. Montesano.
With Christmas decorations and lights set up along the Montecito corridor, Mr. Montesano said it was “terrible” that there were no people walking along the street.
He went on to say that recent reports out of New York State have indicated that restaurants that were only able to seat at 25% capacity indoors had a spread of 1.4%, compared to 76% of virus transmissions coming from family gatherings. Mr. Montesano, as well as others at the rally, pointed to the Solvang City Council unanimously voting not to enforce the recent restrictions.
“I’d like to see Santa Barbara County officials stand up,” he said. “I hear some of them have, I don’t have all the information, but I don’t know why Solvang can do it but we can’t when they have twice as many tourists as we do. I just think that everybody should stand up.
“This is about people and their income. This is three weeks. The last time it was supposed to be two and a half weeks and it went for three months. If this (shutdown) is three weeks, is it going to last for four months? People can’t afford it. This isn’t about me, or my profitability, or my restaurant. It’s about all workers, restaurant workers in Santa Barbara.”
On Friday, Tres Lune was contacted by the county after a resident issued a complaint as patrons were dining in the parklet despite orders not allowing any dining inside or outside the restaurant.
“We weren’t serving, it was to-go things and they were eating out here,” Mr. Montesano said. “If they sat here on the curb it might be okay, but out there it wasn’t. I just don’t understand. Like I said, these people need their jobs. They need the work.”
Ms. Garafalo said that there were chairs placed outdoors for customers to use.
“Where are they going to eat, their cars or on the sidewalk?” she said. “Is that okay? They called us and told us it wasn’t allowed and we had to remove our seating.
“Right now we’re abiding by the orders, it’s just simply unfair. They kick you when you’re down.”
Both Mr. Montesano and Ms. Garafalo were happy to see so many customers come out and show their support.
“Our customers are from the late teens to the mid-80s, and they’ve still been coming and telling us, ‘Please stay open, we love the restaurant, we love the family and all the people working here,’” Mr. Montesano said. “They’re taking a chance; they’re the most susceptible group. If people don’t want (restaurants open), then stay home. But don’t shut everybody else down. It’s just not fair.”
Among the customers showing support were Mindy and Justin Mahy, founders of KOPU Sparkling Water, which is served at many local restaurants.
“We’ve been severely affected and it’s affected our employees as well as employees of all of our partners,” said Mr. Mahy. “It’s horrendous.”
Ms. Mahy, holding a sign questioning where the data is to “devastate millions,” said there needs to be more proof in order to justify the restaurant closures.
“If you’re going to devastate an industry, there needs to be a lot of science to back it up, and in this particular shutdown, there’s no data to back it up,” she told the News-Press. “We can’t idly sit by while the devastation occurs with no science that backs it up.”
As Mr. Montesano and others addressed the crowd, Tres Lune servers dished out pizza for attendees to enjoy in the parklet. One person said that shutting down restaurants was akin to playing a basketball game with no ball. Others called for residents to contact county supervisors or local council members to have Santa Barbara County excluded from the Southern California region.
Keith Hudson, the father of singer-songwriter and Montecito resident Katy Perry, addressed the group and suggested that residents take their masks off, “turn around and moon the governor,” which drew a loud applause from the crowd.
“If people don’t stand up like you guys are doing, we’ll never get nothing done,” he said. “They’ve already found out that having outside restaurants is no problem.
“I’m really excited about this. I wish Katy was here because she would say something or sing a song.”
Mr. Hudson had a message from out-of-towners traveling north to visit Montecito.
“If you’re from L.A., we want you to go back,” he said. “We love Montecito.”