PICTURED: Andrew Pletcher, owner of Oak & Iron in Thousand Oaks.
by Kateri Wozny
When the Ventura County Public Health Department’s “Stay Well at Home” Order went into effect on March 20, Bill Kracht, owner of The Shores in Oxnard and O’Leary’s Tavern in Ventura, immediately thought about his employees.
“I started looking into financial solutions; government money, state money and more for my employees than for myself and how they would survive for two to four weeks,” Kracht said.
Kracht has owned The Shores for about two years and O’Leary’s Tavern for five years. He was required under the order to temporarily close O’Leary’s, which does not serve food. Bars that serve food, such as The Shores, are allowed to remain open for takeout or delivery.
“None of the [bar/restaurant] owners around town thought this would come to life,” Kracht said. “No one thought they were going to shut anyone down and just limit the amount of people to 50 percent capacity.”
Most of his employees – nine from O’Leary’s, 24 from The Shores – are going on unemployment, but Kracht is still trying to help them by providing minimal work. Two employees at The Shores – a bar manager and a kitchen manager – are currently working.
“I have a couple cooks and servers that I’m going to have do some computer work so I can continue to pay them,” Kracht said. “The younger cooks can do deep clean in the kitchen.”
Charlene Pichon, a full-time bartender at The Shores, is one of the employees that has filed for unemployment. In the meantime, she is looking to perform home reorganizing services for community members and has also been creating a library and homeschool setting for her children.
“Money-wise it’s been really challenging,” Pichon said. “I’m seeing what I can do with what I have to keep my kids entertained and generate some kind of income.”
Kracht said the service industry is driven more by tips and not the minimum wage.
“I don’t believe the minimum wage should be $15 (an hour),” Kracht said. “The minimum wage was not to sustain a family, just a way to come into the workforce. I’m more worried what avenues the employees have and if they could file for unemployment with no wait period.” Kracht also mentioned that the United States Bartenders Guild is taking donations through its COVID-19 Relief Campaign to help bartenders pay rent and other bills.
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is also temporarily providing regulatory relief to accommodate bars and restaurants during the state’s “Safer at Home” order, depending on the license type. The Shores is allowed to sell alcoholic beverages to go in a packaged container and secured lid, but only with a purchase of food. The beverage must be kept in the customer’s trunk or another area that is not occupied in the vehicle.
“Everything is tied to food,” Kracht said.
Since the order went into effect, food sales at The Shores average about $500 in a two-day period. “As a rough estimate, I need $1,000 a day to break even,” Kracht said.
Kracht says that some Shores patrons have offered monetary donations, but “the hardest thing is standing at the door and saying no, I can’t take your [charitable] money,” he explained. “The best way to help any small business, even if you don’t want food, is to go buy a gift card at the restaurant and use it later on to help the owner pay rent and bills.”
“I am very appreciative of all of my customers,” Kracht said. “I hope everyone comes and supports us when they can.”
Oak & Iron
Craft cocktail bar Oak & Iron in Thousand Oaks voluntarily shut down on March 15 before the public health order took effect, which resulted in five employees being laid off. The bar’s one-year anniversary was on April 4.
“It was in the best interest of the community and to abide by the six-foot social distancing rule,” said owner Andrew Pletcher. “Everybody who had worked at the time of the closure can walk in that same day and get their job back [when the order is lifted.]”
Lead bartender and beverage director Paul Jones was kept on as part of an unemployment workshare.
“We want to provide comfort cocktails to our customers,” Jones said. “I feel very hesitant about the future and optimistic with the opportunity that I have.”
Oak & Iron is currently serving wine bottles ($16.99 to $134.99), cocktails ($14 to $22) and house-made mixers ($18) to go. They are also partnered with next door restaurant Bad Ass Tacos under the city of Thousand Oaks’ conditional use permit. Customers are allowed to pickup the products between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week.
“As long as they’re open and serving food to go, we are their beverage partner and will fulfill that obligation,” Pletcher said.
Currently, Pletcher said purchased costs are about 85 percent lower than when they are normally open.
“The first 24 hours [of the order] we were selling wine mixers just to survive,” Pletcher said. “It really hit me that our insurance wasn’t going to cover us because they don’t cover virus-related closures.”
Fifty percent of proceeds will go toward helping Oak & Iron’s employees.
“This will help give them something,” Pletcher said. “Many small businesses need your support. If [the community] can commit to one to two meals a week, that’s going a long way.”
The bar also plans on having mixology classes a few times a week via Instagram and Facebook Live. “Whiskey Wednesdays” ($40 for three tastings, $60 for four tastings) will feature different whiskey or bourbon providers.
“We are not even a year old and we have been embraced by the community,” Pletcher said. “That motivates us to turn around and keep going.”
For more information, visit oakandironto.com.
Ireland native Michael Delahunty, owner of The Local in Camarillo, was looking forward to having a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in his pub but could see what was happening on the horizon.
“It was just going to be too busy and we could see [the public health order] coming,” Delahunty said, who made the decision to close the bar temporarily on March 15.
That first two weeks, he said he and his wife were looking at their financial situation. The couple have two children and another baby on the way.
“I needed to look at my inner circle and what we could do to survive,” he explained. “Then I looked at the pub. You have to be smart, bottles aren’t cheap and there are so many unknowns and you have to go through all of them before you jump back in.”
The Local re-opened on April 1 with beer growlers ($14) and house made cocktails ($10) to go.
“We want to see how April goes to get a better timeline of when we’ll be busy and not busy,” Delahunty said. “I might bring back food trucks on Fridays.”
Customers can also shop for merchandise online, including hats, t-shirts, hoodies, branded glasses, gift cards and stickers featuring each of his two employees.
“It’s been stress on all of them,” Delahunty said. “I’m trying to help them out and give them a percentage of the stickers that are sold. I got 1,000 stickers and have about 300 of them left.”
On April 9, the pub celebrated its two year anniversary with growler beer specials.
“Looking at the glass half full, we have a bar and a loyal following,” Delahunty said. “Even though it’s scary times, I feel blessed to have a bar to go through these scary times. We’re all going to eventually get through this somehow.”
For more information, visit www.thelocalcamarillo.com.