SOUTH GATE, Calif. — Monday marks the beginning of the red tier in Los Angeles County. This means restaurants are able to reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity.
This was big news for the staff at a small restaurant called Velma’s Cafe in South Gate. There was already an hour wait for customers on Sunday and the owner, Leticia Banderas was ecstatic to have the opportunity to welcome servers she had to let go back to work.
Leticia had tears in her eyes as she explained how she felt about moving to the red tier.
"It’s been a long road to get to this point," she said.
The pandemic wasn’t the first time Leticia thought she’d have to close Velma’s Cafe for good.
She bought this space back in 2006 for her son who was an aspiring chef. Then, the recession hit and not a single bank would lend her the money she needed to rebuild and bring the space up to code.
It sat vacant for 10 years until they could finally open with a family inspired menu created by her son in 2016.
"He got different things from mom, from grandma and he put his own little fusion into the food and it’s been great," Leticia explained.
He also brought in artists to bring a vibrant feel to the restaurant. Velma’s Cafe started to make a name for its art and quality ingredients, then everything stopped in March of last year.
It’s been a roller coaster ever since, but Leticia says the community’s support has been overwhelming.
Ashley Rodriguez manages their social media and her simple posts about their fresh handmade tortillas and fish tacos have gone viral twice, sending so many people to the restaurant that the wait was two hours on the weekend when outdoor dining resumed.
"It was such a struggle when they opened for outdoor dining and then they closed everything down in L.A., because that’s what kept us afloat," Rodriguez explained.
Leticia did all she could to stay ahead of the curve.
When indoor dining was banned, they built a small patio, but when that was closed, she couldn’t afford the fees that delivery services charged, so for months they were doing take-out only.
Leticia had to let go of half of her staff along the way so she's scrambling to get them back now that the County has allowed restaurants to serve indoors at 25% capacity.
“I’m working on hiring right now. We are trying to get more people so that we can get ready for next week," she said.
She’s also checking every requirement from Public Health to ensure Velma’s Cafe is ready for the week.
This is the first day in a long time that finally feels like Leticia has reached the other side.
"We’ve been in really bad shape but we’re hoping that this...I’m so happy. It’s just, thank God," she said, sighing a breath of relief with high hopes of a sweeter future.
A number of other indoor activities are also permitted in the red tier, including in person learning, gyms, and movie theaters, all with limited capacity.