Businesses find ways to stay afloat in OCC’s backyard

Patrons gather at The Lab near OCC's campus on Dec. 3. COVID-19 restrictions and no students on campus have created challenges for nearby businesses. 

There’s more than one laboratory working to beat COVID-19.

Medical professionals all around the world are working tirelessly to develop more vaccines for COVID-19. Thousands of hospitals lodge the sick in hopes of aiding in their recovery.

In Costa Mesa, a tiny shopping mall called “The Lab” fights this virus every day.

It’s no medical center, but the business managers at The Lab constantly adapt to the adversity they face with the COVID-19 outbreak worsening by the day. On top of the virus, local government regulations add another layer of difficulty for all businesses, especially restaurants.

Adapting is not optional for these business owners.

The everyday consumer should notice these adjustments: a facemask required for entry, a system to keep people 6-feet apart, outdoor dining and even take-out only.

These adjustments have become the current standard, thanks to owners willing to change their business model for the well-being of customers. 

“It feels like different regulations every month,” co-owner of Nook Coffee Bar Calvin Yoo said. “I feel like we’ve done a good job of following those regulations anyway, and that’s why we are still able to stay in business.” 

On Dec. 3, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a stay at home order with similar restrictions to the March coronavirus policy. This maneuver followed the Nov. 16 decision to push most California counties back to the purple, most restrictive tier of reopening.

Despite the rollercoaster ride of regulations, owners like Yoo are still seeing the adapted business model pay off.  

“Nook has actually been more busy than from before COVID-19,” Yoo said. “The reason for that is our system is custom to serve to-go drinks and orders. We’ve been ready for this [change in policy] and we’re thankful.”

Other businesses have not been so lucky, however.

“The restrictions have definitely affected business here,” said Brandon Peterson, manager of The Den Cafe. “Obviously it’s a tough thing to navigate when you’re dealing with the health and safety of the public.”

The Den Cafe did offer outdoor dining, but with the stay at home order, Peterson’s business became one of many to resort to take-out only.

Being in compliance with the government mandate, Peterson feels like there are some establishments that slip through the cracks.

“I feel like all industries should be treated the same. Private golf clubs and stuff like that are all open with no restrictions,” Peterson said.

California’s own Governor Newsom was seen dining indoors at the lavish French Laundry just days before the state’s death toll would reach 10,000 and the state would move counties into more restrictive tiers.

“The government has been opening and closing on-and-off, making small businesses really scared of reopening, tiring us out in the process,” Yoo said. “If they were to decide on something, we’d like to follow the rules -- just make them clear the first time with reasonable actions.”

The businesses want transparency.

The ball is still in the government’s court with that issue. 

Regardless, the OCC community, as well as the businesses themselves, miss the pre-coronavirus environment.

“We’ve always had a lot of students come in and study, more so when we were open inside,” Peterson said. “We always welcome students into our cafe.”

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