‘Our locals kept us alive’ — and so did outdoor dining: a push for Scotts Valley restaurants to stay outside
With restaurants, politicians and community members seemingly all-in on outdoor dining, bureaucratic hurdles could be the only thing keeping Scotts Valley from making it permanent before a city ordinance expires at year’s end.
Ashley Garcia remembers sitting at the counter at Auntie Mame’s Cafe, watching her mother weave through crowds of people, carrying plates of pancakes to tables. As the years passed, she’d remain at the counter watching hot cakes fly by, only this time watching her brothers Ivan and Marco bussing those same maple syrup-smeared dishes off tables for their mother.
Their mother, Norma Corona, started working at Auntie Mame’s in Scotts Valley in 1993 before purchasing the restaurant in 2002. Fast-forward a decade and change, it’s been Ashley and her brothers holding the fort down after the trials of 2020.
“My brothers and I were working without pay but we didn’t care,” Garcia said. Over the past year, the trio has been in survival mode, adding that the staff has primarily been just her, her brothers, and one other cook.
When the pandemic shutdown started, the restaurant was fielding maybe three takeout orders a day, she said. It was the outdoor dining that helped keep them in business, and it is outdoor dining that she hopes remains the lone carryover from an otherwise turbulent year-plus.
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Last month, Scotts Valley City Council members voted unanimously in favor of extending the city’s outdoor dining ordinance until Dec. 31. This week, state officials too extended outdoor dining and to-go drinks through the end of the year.
“This has been really helpful for all our outdoor businesses,” Scotts Valley City Council Member Donna Lind said, adding that council members plan to revisit the ordinance before the end of the year with hopes to make outdoor dining a permanent fixture.
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“It’s been the thing that has helped restaurants get through the pandemic,” Scotts Valley Mayor Derek Timm said. The biggest hurdle in making outdoor dining permanent, he said, is navigating how to handle permitting with so many Scotts Valley restaurants located in strip malls and on private property.
“One of the stories, when we look back at this, is how quickly the community reacted,” Timm said of outdoor dining and pandemic recovery. It’s a sentiment echoed by Garcia, who said “our locals kept us alive.”
At Heavenly Roadside Cafe, Danny Voutus was also quick to thank his customers for their pandemic support, adding that several called ahead for gift cards early in the shutdown and have since continued to tip the remaining staff generously.
The cafe, on Mount Hermon Road in Scotts Valley, had an outdoor patio space available before the pandemic, Voutos said. The restaurant has added a tent cover for additional seating and weather protection, and with patrons preferring to eat outside, the challenge has transitioned toward having enough employees to turn tables or having enough space to accommodate guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s been a constant battle,” he said. “Problem we face is every weekend everyone wants to wait for outdoor dining. And the problem on weekends is we don’t have enough servers.”
It’s the same at Auntie Mame’s, where current CDC guidance on indoor service leaves the restaurant with only seven tables and a handful of stools at the service counter, Garcia said.
Timm said he remains optimistic that a decision to keep outdoor dining in Scotts Valley will be finalized before the end of the year.