Customers, community pitch in to build patio for Encinitas eatery
Kris Buchanan said outpouring followed news of staff members being berated by customers over facial coverings
An Encinitas restaurant once an example of a community divided over “the great mask debate” has become a symbol of unity and support during the health crisis, with customers pitching in to build a patio to serve more guests.
Kris Fillat-Buchanan, owner of the natural-food eatery Goodonya on Coast Highway 101, even calls the turn of events a “COVID-19 feel-good story.”
Fillat-Buchanan, an athlete who played on the USA field hockey team in the 1996 Olympic Games, has operated Goodonya since 2001, but this has been a tough year for her and other restaurateurs because of the coronavirus outbreak.
While the financial loss caused by health code restrictions that prohibit indoor seating was tough on the business, she was shocked at the ordeal some of her young staff members endured from people who were asked to follow safety guidelines by wearing facial coverings.
“We have people coming into our restaurant screaming, yelling, making our staff cry,” she said in a video posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page June 28. “Some of them are very young. It’s hard to get yelled at when you care so much about your job.”
Fillat-Buchanan said she was no longer willing to put her staff members in a position where they are berated. The restaurant closed that day and reopened July 3 for takeout and delivery service only.
“We got pushed to the brink of frustration,” she said in an interview last week. “My staff was feeling exhausted.”
One of the employees had tested positive for the coronavirus, and the closure also allowed time to sanitize the restaurant and have all other workers tested.
But then the unexpected happened. Fillat-Buchanan’s three-minute video got shared by about 100 followers, who shared it with more people. She was featured on local news shows. Even the BBC called to include her in a story about what was happening in the U.S.
“I love Coldplay, and I hope Chris Martin was listening,” she said about her radio interview.
The attention didn’t result in revenue, however. Business was down about 50 percent, and the struggling eatery started serving people outside in four parking spots the city had provided.
“I didn’t know how long we’d be able to keep it, but I wanted to make it nice for our customers,” Fillat-Buchanan said. “Sitting on asphalt is hot. We spent over three grand for umbrellas, and that’s the last thing we could afford.”
She reached out to customers and asked if anyone could donate some wood and time to build a patio. Her father went around to different businesses and found Dixieline Lumber in Solana Beach willing to help.
“The store manager, Sergio (Paz), is our hero,” she said about the lumber donation, which she estimated to be valued at thousands of dollars.
Customer Mike Bryant, the owner of Plumb 365, and Jeff Maitner, owner of Halcyon Trade Building Co. in Encinitas, stepped in to help design and build the patio with other workers.
“Both guys are contractors, and they had a pretty good idea of what would be fast to build and durable,” she said.
So far, only the platform is built, and next will comes walls and railings around the edge. The patio now can accommodate 12 tables while before there were only three. While that’s still short of the 23 tables that used to be inside, Fillat-Buchanan said it has been a helpful addition during this tough period.
Besides the material and labor, other customers have chipped in $2,000 to help build the patio.
The outpouring was similar but on a smaller scale to what happened to Starbucks barista Lenin Gutierrez of San Diego. Like staff members at Goodonya, he had been berated by a customer over the mask policy. After the customer attempted to shame him on social media, supporters of Gutierrez set up an online “tip jar” through a GoFundMe page that raised about $105,000.
Fillat-Buchanan said the permit the city of Encinitas granted for businesses to use parking spots for seating is only temporary, so it would not have made sense for her to pay about $10,000 to build a new patio herself.
She’s hoping that when the pandemic is over, however, Encinitas and other cities will allow them to stay, appreciating that they’ve added character in their neighborhoods at the cost of a few lost parking spaces.
“People do not want to eat on a busy highway,” she said. “I believe COVID has given us reason to pause and think about what is really important to our community. Find me a person that doesn’t like a thriving main street, a unique downtown, a place with local businesses versus corporate chains. A place that represents the individual community.”
— Gary Warth is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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