As life returns to normalcy, businesses throughout Los Angeles are adjusting to the various hardships and transitions caused by two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. From South Central to Beverly Hills, coffee shops have had to quickly adapt to changing health and safety protocols, particularly in the face of the Omicron variant.
Alejandra Barba, owner of La Monarca Bakery and Cafe in Boyle Heights, discussed the difficulties COVID has created for her business and the general sentiment towards the virus and the vaccine.
Barba stated that some residents have ceased wearing their masks. Although she stated that the majority of customers continue to maintain social distance and wear facial covers, she stated that a sizable number of customers have expressed their disbelief in the virus or the vaccine.
“People are resistant to vaccination,” Barba explained. “That is why I believe the neighbourhood is one of the most densely populated and infected areas with COVID-19.”
Barba stated that customers have grown tired of the mask mandate, and as the pandemic enters its third year, she believes people are ready for a return to normalcy. She has observed that some customers who object to the mask mandate have taken their business elsewhere. Additionally, she has noticed a decrease in the number of customers who dine in and the amount of time they spend at the cafe.
Barba adds that while people have begun to dine in again, the closure of nearby businesses has had an effect on the cafe’s daily customers and larger corporate orders.
Business owners have been forced to change the way their cafes operate. Layouts have been altered to accommodate social segregation. Additionally, owners have had to deal with product shortages, an increase in the cost of materials and ingredients, and difficulties requiring proof of vaccination from diners.
Jared Grant, owner of Culver City’s Cali Street Cafe, lauds the city’s vaccine accessibility but notes that he has lost several customers as a result of the closure of several nearby medical offices.
Before the pandemic, Cali Street Cafe was a hot spot for workers nearby, but the amount of walk-up customers has dwindled since.
“It was as if we were dead in the water,” Grant explained.
Many working Americans rely on coffee shops like Cali Street Cafe, according to Grant. Barba and Grant both called attention to a change in customer flow that originated from the pandemic.
This is not an issue that just affects small businesses, said Lupita Salcedo, the store manager of a Starbucks in Exposition Park. Salcedo shared that large corporations like Starbucks are dealing with the ripple effects of the pandemic. The recent Omicron peak only further demonstrated how dependent Starbucks was on the presence of student life.
“When we don’t have students on campus, our business drops,” Salcedo said. “Even though we have Uber Eats, our business comes from students.”
Meanwhile, Suzy Hovanesyan, the owner of Cafe Sheera in Beverly Hills, said her business did not face any drastic changes during the Omicron peak, however, she did make note of the experiences she has had with residents.
“You hear these comments a lot where they’re like, ‘I’m just done, I have to live my life and I have to go back to normal,’” Hovanesyan said. “If I get it, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t. I’ve done everything I can.”