As if it needs to be said, but for many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has been about survival, and many didn’t make it.
Now that more and more restrictions are being lifted, the NBC4 I-Team sat down with one local restaurant owner who managed to beat the odds.
The heart decals on the exterior of the bright, lime-green colored exterior and inside the eclectic and vibrant dining room are not just for show. The restaurant, Chifa, is a labor of love for Rica Leon https://www.chifa-la.com/
“We are cooking out of passion and love with a thought towards wellness,” she says noting the fresh and mostly locally sourced ingredients in the kitchen.
Chifa in Eagle Rock opened in November 2020 when only outdoor dining was permitted, so she created an outdoor spot for customers in the restaurant parking lot. Strict COVID-19 safety protocols remain, and her indoor dining room is closed for now.
Leon and her husband opened the restaurant in the same neighborhood of Los Angeles where she grew up, moving from Lima, Peru.
“When we first immigrated, we moved to Highland Park,” Leon said.
It’s a family affair with her husband and mother in the kitchen and her children helping as well.
“Chifa is primarily Chinese food, Cantonese food,” Leon said. “We have also added a twist, our favorite Peruvian dishes,” she added.
“We feel so blessed we were able to succeed... a little bit of hard work, a lot of luck,” Leon explains.
And that’s what it takes sometimes, because keeping businesses open in Los Angeles is not easy, especially when in-person service is a big part of the business.
The I-Team analyzed the number of active business licenses in the city of Los Angeles over the last few years, and even before the pandemic, there’s been a huge drop.
The number of active business licenses in 2018 was 588,912 compared to 540,573 active business licenses in 2020, an 8.5% drop according to data from the Los Angeles City Office of Finance. The impact from COVID-19 highlights some of the city’s grim realities says Mazen Bou Zeineddine, Manager of Economic, Fiscal, and Social lmpact Analysis at Beacon Economics. He believes there are various reasons why businesses may be closing. Housing is a key one.
“Los Angeles is increasingly becoming an unaffordable place to live,” he said, adding that “the appeal for businesses to come here and open up might be diminished as a result of that... we need to see more policies in place to advance housing production, so we can see a more affordable cost of living for people in Los Angeles.”
He says the impact of business closures doesn’t just impact the employees or business owner of each location, especially in industries struggling right now.
“Let’s say for example a movie theater in Los Angeles closed down, not only are we going to see a loss of revenue and wages from that movie theater alone, but candy production, snack and food vendors are going to be impacted, even movie production distribution is going to be impacted because of that closure,” Bou Zeineddine said.
He says consumers can help by visiting local businesses while following safety precautions, changing their online spending patterns developed during the pandemic. Leon has more than two dozen employees, almost all from the local area. Her restaurant is now open a few days a week on purpose. She is also reaching out to other local chefs who have lost their businesses.
“Tuesdays and Wednesdays are free and potentially Thursdays, we will host them here. They can come here and do a pop-up,” she said.
“We want this to be a local restaurant for our local community,” she added.