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How L.A. Businesses are Reinventing Themselves to Stay Alive

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The following article was originally published March 31, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Leo Duran

While most of their in-person customers stay away, small businesses in Los Angeles are coming up with creative measures to stay afloat.

Some restaurants have used their connections with suppliers to turn themselves into de facto markets, selling groceries but the L.A. County Department of Public Health isn't so hot on the practice.

Signs posted in front of Guerrilla Tacos in downtown Los Angeles explaining its new system for picking up orders during the coronavirus pandemic and resulting quarantine. | Leo Duran/LAist
Signs posted in front of Guerrilla Tacos in downtown Los Angeles explaining its new system for picking up orders during the coronavirus pandemic and resulting quarantine. | Leo Duran/LAist

Others have instituted elaborate protocols for customers who are picking up food. At Guerrilla Tacos in downtown L.A., you text the staff when you've arrived. At the restaurant's entrance, you stand behind a line on the ground until an employee brings your food to a table set up in the vestibule. Only when the staffer is back inside can you cross the line to get your items.

Guerrilla Tacos has also started to offer large, pre-made meals that include 10 pounds of meat, 30 eggs and a roll of toilet paper.

"Basically we had a catering menu all ready to roll, so we kind of slid into offering that," chef and owner Wes Avila says.

Others like Poppy + Rose, a modern comfort food spot in DTLA, are selling meal kits so that fans of its fried chicken and waffles can make these items at home.

"We're kind of listening to what everybody else is saying and just filling the need in the community," co-owner Kwini Reed says.

A pre-pandemic meal from Guerilla Tacos: A bacon taco with a fried egg, baby rapini, cheddar, arbol chile and chives (left) and a sunchoke taco with persimmon, castlevetrano olives, almond chile, scallions and pistachio. | T.Tseng/Flickr Creative Commons
A pre-pandemic meal from Guerilla Tacos: A bacon taco with a fried egg, baby rapini, cheddar, arbol chile and chives (left) and a sunchoke taco with persimmon, castlevetrano olives, almond chile, scallions and pistachio. | T.Tseng/Flickr Creative Commons

Yoga and dance studios have also employed creative measures to stay open.

ABCs of Dance in West Hollywood has taken its classes to Zoom so children can still learn ballet at home.

"When we announced that we were going to close for in-person classes, we got so many responses from families that were thankful," co-owner Amanda Albin says. "We were offering a little bit of normal."

Remote classes and takeout food are clever stopgap measures but they aren't long-term solutions. Small businesses still have rent to pay and most are, at best, breaking even with their new approaches. If "stay at home" orders continue for weeks or even months, many businesses may not be able to bounce back.

If there's any silver lining to the coronavirus quarantine, Avila thinks it might at least slow down the rapacious pace of development — and gentrification — that has overtaken many L.A. neighborhoods. After all, landlords will have little to bargain with if they evict a tenant.

"If landlords are saying I can get a Starbucks in here quick, it's like, be my guest," Avila says. "Nobody's trying to move in when there's no money. There's not even people to come and eat."

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