Covid-19 Through the Lens of LA Coffee Shops – Annenberg Media
Covid-19 Through the Lens of LA Coffee Shops – Annenberg Media

Covid-19 Through the Lens of LA Coffee Shops – Annenberg Media

As life returns to a sense of normalcy, businesses across LA are dealing with the various hardships and transitions that result from two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coffee bars from South Central to Beverly Hills have had to quickly adapt to changing health and safety protocols, especially in light of the Omicron variant.

At La Monarca Bakery and Cafe in Boyle Heights, owner Alejandra Barba explained the problems COVID has created for her business and highlighted the overall mood regarding the virus and the vaccine.

Barba said some residents have begun to no longer wear their masks. Although she said the majority still practice social distancing and keep their face cover on, a significant amount of clients have told her that they do not believe in the virus or the vaccine.

“People do not want to be vaccinated,” Barba said. “That is why I think the neighborhood is one of the areas that is more concentrated and infected [with COVID-19]. “

Barba shared that customers have grown tired of the mask mandate, and as the third year of the pandemic approaches, she believes people are ready to return to a sense of normalcy. She has seen some customers who do not want to abide by the mask mandate take their business somewhere else. She has also noticed a reduction in the number of customers eating in and the amount of time they spend at the cafe.

Barba further highlights that while people have started eating again, the closure of nearby businesses has also left an impact by reducing the number of daily customers and larger corporate orders that the cafe was once used to.

Business owners have had to change the way their cafes operate. Layouts have been changed to accommodate social distancing. Owners have also had to deal with shortages of products, an increase in the price of materials and ingredients and difficulties in demanding proof of vaccination from customers who eat in.

Jared Grant, owner of Cali Street Cafe in Culver City, praises the city’s vaccine availability, but said he also lost more customers due to 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 dropped since.

“We were just a little dead in the water,” Grant said.

Many working Americans are addicted to coffee shops like Cali Street Cafe, according to Grant. Barba and Grant both drew attention to a change in customer flow stemming from the pandemic.

This is not a problem that only affects small businesses, said Lupita Salcedo, store manager for a Starbucks in Exposition Park. Salcedo shared that big companies like Starbucks are dealing with the ripple effects of the pandemic. The recent Omicron summit only further demonstrated how dependent Starbucks was on the presence of student life.

“When we do not have students on campus, our business falls,” Salcedo said. “Even though we have Uber Eats, our business comes from students.”

Meanwhile, Suzy Hovanesyan, owner of Cafe Sheera in Beverly Hills, said her business did not face any drastic changes during the Omicron summit, but she noted the experiences she has had with residents.

“One hears these comments a lot where they are 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, then I understand it. If I do not, I do not. I have done everything I can.”

Hovanesyan said these attitudes and feelings stem largely from the exhaustion people feel.

Cafe Sheera has maintained a consistent flow of customers over the past few months, who also dine and indulge in the luxurious Beverly Hills experience. For many months earlier, residents said they longed for the social experience.

“They still miss the experience of that interaction of sitting across the table from each other and drinking coffee and sharing a little about life,” Hovanesyan said.

As business booms again, Hovanesyan said it is important to consider why areas like Beverly Hills may return to normal more quickly. She explained that one reason is age, as Beverly Hills tends to be an older demographic where residents are more diligent about their personal health.

“In 2021, we saw a huge increase in people wanting to get out and socialize,” Hovanesyan said. “Ironically, we realized that our 2021 numbers were far stronger than our 2019 numbers prior to the pandemic.”

Hovanesyan said seeing companies like Cafe Sheera thrive gives hope of returning to life before COVID, highlighting how vaccination rates and attitudes towards the virus can impact companies’ prosperity, their long-term viability and the surrounding social life.

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