Interview: California restaurant owners want their money back amid COVID-19

Morning

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — In a first-of-its-kind maneuver, restaurant owners across California demanded some of their money back on Monday from the state and their local governments.

They’ve paid out for items such as liquor licenses, health permits and state tourism assessments, and even though restaurants were shuttered for months for dine-in service to help control the spread of COVID-19, the owners kept paying.

And though many are back open with varying levels of limited capacity, most are not operating as they were before the pandemic hit.

With revenue down due to compliance with coronavirus restrictions, these entrepreneurs say it’s not fair for them to be billed as they would be under normal conditions.

One of those owners who’ve filed a claim is Sam Manolakas of Brookfields restaurants in Rancho Cordova, Roseville and Sacramento.

Nearly 70% of California restaurants are close to being evicted from their current location due to not being able to pay rent. Although Manolaka owns his properties and his restaurants are back open, state fees and loss of tourism have negatively impacted his business.

“This whole pandemic and the state’s mandate to close down and only have outdoor dining has affected us greatly,” Manaloka said, adding his restaurants are currently operating 25% to 50% normal capacity.

Lawyer Brian Kabateck said that they’ll be filing in all major counties in the state.

“This is simply a matter of fundamental fairness,” Kabateck said. “These business owners followed the law. They did exactly what they were told to do by the governor and by the local counties. All we’re simply saying is the same government that told them to close is charging them for fees for a restaurant they can’t use [needs to] give them their money back.”

A $100 million class-action lawsuit may follow if the state does not respond to their claims after the allotted 45 days.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but when it’s spread from the whole state, it’s a relatively small amount of money to these restaurants,” he said. “But it makes the difference to these restaurants, so returning $5,000 to 10,000 to them right now might be the difference between staying open and closing, keeping people employed [and] laying people off.”

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