Good Times Cafe owners Al and Dee Anna Knauer have felt the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When their restaurant was forced to shutdown indoor dining by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state mandate, the Knauers struggled to keep their south Visalia eatery afloat during the spring and summer.
To make ends meet, they had to sell their motorhome and a trailer and shifted their business model with to-go orders only.
But that didn’t work even after slashing their entire staff.
In September, while operating in the red, the Knauers defied Newsom’s restriction on indoor dining, re-opening their dining room for patrons to eat indoors.
Good Times Cafe has been open for indoor dining since Sept. 14.
“We sold everything we had that could be sold other than our house,” Al Knauer said. “When we realized we were going under, we made a decision one night. We talked to each other, ‘We either close for good and be gone or we open.’ And we opened.”
With the Knauers making the decision to open their diner, they were able to hire or re-hire 24 employees.
Dee Anna made the call to every former employee before the pandemic hit and offered every single one their old position.
All but one returned, she said. The one who didn’t was on maternity leave.
Now, Good Times Cafe is so busy, there is a waitlist to get seated despite Newsom’s recent regional stay-at-home order, which restricts all indoor and outdoor dining.
The Knauers said they are following state health guidelines to help stop the spread of the virus, including sanitizing tables after every use and installing partitions.
The diner typically seats more than 50 people but they are only operating at half capacity.
“In the restaurant industry, it don’t take long to all of sudden realize you are hurting,” Knauer said. “I make probably 13 cents on a dollar. That’s what I make. So guess what? If you’re closed, you ain’t making nothing.”
The Knauers were two of about 20 people who gathered to rally on Saturday at the intersection of Mooney Boulevard and Caldwell Avenue to support local businesses.
In a report published in September, Yelp found that 163,735 total U.S. businesses have closed since the beginning of the pandemic, with 60% of those permanently closed.
“If you have a restaurant you like, that’s a mom and pop, even if it ain’t mine, you need to go there,” Knauer said. “Because if you don’t, they aren’t going to be there.”
Strings Italian Cafe owner Keith Bolender, 39, organized the rally to voice his support for local businesses.
Bolender has owned Strings for 10 years.
“When your basic right to make a living is taken away, someone needs to stand up,” Bolender said. “You can’t allow people to go to Target and Wal-Mart, even at 20%, and tell someone who owns a restaurant that you can’t even do outdoor dining. It’s nonsensible.”
Since the pandemic, because of a lack of revenue, Bolender has cut 75% of his staff. Now, he only has seven people on his payroll.
To survive, Strings is defying Newsom’s recent order and continuing to serve diners through its outdoor patio seating.
“It’s great to do takeout, it’s great to do GrubHub, DoorDash and gift certificates, but the revenue that you get from dine-in, people actually sitting down, is what keeps restaurants thriving,” Bolender said. “When you take that away, you’re just taking away the heart and the revenue of a business.”
Several notable local businesses have shuttered their doors during the pandemic.
Ryan’s Place, a longtime Visalia staple, serving Tulare County for more than 30 years closed for good last week.
The R-N Market in Tulare closed in July and Brides N Maidens, a bridal shop in downtown Visalia, closed in July after a 46-year run.
“It’s devastating,” Knauer said. “I’m not an emotional guy, but there’s been two to three times, I’ve been in tears.”
Since the pandemic hit Tulare County in mid-March, 25,042 people have been infected, and 319 people have died from COVID-19 complications, according to data provided by local and state public health officials.
One of Knauer’s softball buddies died due to virus complications and another was hospitalized for two months.
“I know it’s real, but you can’t shut the world down,” Knauer said. “Bills don’t stop.”
Vongni Yang is a sports reporter for the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register. He covers Tulare County sports. Follow him on Twitter @Vongni. To support his continued coverage of local sports, subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: These two Visalia restaurants are still offering indoor and outdoor dining despite regional stay-at-home order