“When you live in a small town, everyone and everything is connected. You have to get comfortable with the fact that driving down Main Street is an exercise in hand-waving and smiling, even on the days when you don’t feel like doing either. But that connection is what makes small town living so desirable and wonderful.”
Where the Monterey Pines meet the sea, you will find the quaint town of Cambria on the central coast of California. Its sign says that the area hosts a population of 6,400 — but of that number, approximately only roughly 4,000 are full-time residents.
The Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill is a family business which sits on Moonstone Beach Drive across the street from ocean — boasting an unmatched an seaside waterfront view from every table inside and outside on the patio.
Family-owned and operated for 27 years, this restaurant employs between 65 (in the slow season) to 90 people (in the busy season which runs from June through September) and is a longstanding staple of the Cambria community.
Read more about how this resilient establishment has fought to survive during the pandemic, grappling with the decision of whether to close its doors, the dark, inside truth about the “PPP” loans the US government has been offering to small businesses, the importance of family, the power of a small town’s sense of community, and the generosity of the human spirit during tough times. This is what it really looked like to try to keep a restaurant business going during the COVID-19 pandemic:
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
“The main issue we have faced in this pandemic is raising capital. Because of our town’s small population, and our business model (full service, oceanfront dining), we quickly realized that we would lose less money shutting down completely than trying to stay open offering “Take-Out” orders. With the 19 other restaurants in Cambria, selling to a small populace of locals who could actually afford “Take Out” in this crisis, was too large a feat.
In addition, with the government offering an extra $600 per week for unemployment, our employees would make more money if we closed our doors so they could collect from the system.
But closing the doors doesn’t stop the bills from coming in… We were having one of our busiest winters on record — and we currently run on a 30-day term with our vendors. Not to mention, utilities, taxes, and rent that don’t stop just because you close your doors (freezers, alarm systems, and the lights must all stay on to save precious inventory for a future opening). We gave the food that would perish, to our employees.
The media made it appear that the government was lending small businesses easy money that would be forgiven if they stayed open — but that was far from the truth. The “forgiveness” loans they created were horrible for restaurants. When you read between the lines, our government developed a loan that made small businesses pay for their unemployed workers in order to save them (the government) from having to pay unemployment, at least until the loan amount was exhausted. It made no sense to have to pay employees when you were forced to close your doors.
The banks were too busy trying to keep up with lending these government loans to consider the more traditional 30 year loan programs that would actually help restaurants survive in this new environment.”
“But through it all (my husband and I have been together over 40 years), we quickly learned to keep our sense of humor in order to mentally survive this.”
What was your daily routine during quarantine?
“So, during this crazy pandemic, my husband and I worked full-time knowing we would have to entirely recreate our restaurant: its procedures, its menus, and its focus. Our daily routine became reading and interpreting constantly changing regulations written in legal jargon and listening to webinars from the SBA, the CRA (California Restaurant Association), the NRA (National Restaurant Association), lawyers, accountants, and insurance experts.
We accumulated information and knowledge at a speed that made our heads spin. Our mornings started early, 5 a.m., with the financial news, then the national news, ending with us screaming at the media and government officials speaking on the TV, as if they could hear us.
Then, we headed to our restaurant to spend long days changing everything we had built 27 years ago; not to mention staying in contact with the 65 employees we laid off, all with their own financial stresses, to make sure they were aware of organizations and grants that could help them out.
But through it all (my husband and I have been together over 40 years), we quickly learned to keep our sense of humor in order to mentally survive this. Both of us are 58, with twin boys in college (one at Berkeley and the other at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), and a 17 year old daughter going into her senior year of High School with her own dreams of college on the horizon.
[Note: A little shout-out here to my beautiful and always insightful niece, Kelly MacKinnon, who during this crisis, introduced me to a meditation app called “Unplug” which has helped me feel a little more balanced and less anxious throughout the day.]”
What did you do to keep your spirits up?
“When you live in a small town, everyone and everything is connected. You have to get comfortable with the fact that driving down Main Street is an exercise in hand-waving and smiling, even on the days when you don’t feel like doing either. But that connection is what makes small town living so desirable and wonderful.
When May arrived and it was apparent that Newsom was not going to allow our county to open up, we partnered up with the Sea Chest Restaurant (also a full service restaurant that closed) and the Rotary Club to hold a drive-thru “Free Spaghetti Dinner and Fundraiser” to feed our town. All donations collected were dispersed among four local charities helping people in need. And, as always, when we do these types of events (this wasn’t our first rodeo so to speak), the town showed up.
We served over 850 dinners in two hours (that equates to one meal served every nine seconds) until we ran out of food to cook. The donation jar held $15,000 at the end, and that made our spirits soar. What a great and generous town we live in.
To end, there’s a quote from the late U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings which I memorized and say to myself every night before bed. I think it sums-up how my husband and I look at life today:
I only have a minute,
Sixty seconds in it,
Forced upon me, I did not chose it,
But I know I must use it,
Give account if I abuse it,
Suffer if I lose it.
Only a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.”
Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill is located at 6550 Moonstone Beach Drive in Cambria, CA. The restaurant just reopened on June 1st to offer its amazing food and unforgettable views with modified service in accordance to enhanced safety precautions.
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