It has come down to a matter of survival, Michael Dene said.
Dene owns several restaurants in Long Beach, including the flagship Michael's on Naples Ristorante. He's now the spokesman for the newly formed Long Beach Restaurant Association.
"We need to get the city to understand the urgency of getting open in a safe way," Dene said Monday. "We also need to talk about fees, making parklets permanent, slowing traffic… We have to find ways to come together. We're probable going to lose another 100 restaurants, and all the jobs that go with it."
Dene said that about 100 restaurant operators already have joined the LBRA. Many of those restaurants are in east Long Beach. But Dene said the goal is to take the association citywide, and sign up 300 members.
Long Beach has its own Health and Human Services Department, so should be able to make its own way in terms of what businesses are open and how they operate, Dene said — in particular, allowing inside dining at restaurants. Another immediate priority, Dene said, is to convince the City Council to extend permits for parklet and parking lot dining through 2021.
Kurt Schneiter, newly elected president of the Belmont Shore Business Association, said last month that permanent parklets is one of his top priorities. Schneiter is a property owner with multiple restaurants as tenants.
A third priority for the LBRA, Dene said, is to convince city officials to create a Long Beach Restaurant Reinvestment Program. That program would rebate a portion of sales tax collected by restaurants to restaurants to help mitigate losses, invest in future operations and preserve jobs.
While many of the LBRA goals are citywide, some actions would be more local. For example, the speed limit on Second Street through Belmont Shore is 25 mph, but it is 35 mph through Naples. Dene said the 25 mph speed limit should continue through Naples.
"It's 25 in Belmont Shore, but it's 35 in Naples, and people go 60," Dene said. "That must change."
Last month, a speeding car careened into the parklet in front of Michael's on Naples, destroying it. The incident took place after the restaurant had closed and no one was injured — the driver walked away, leaving the car behind.
While the impetus for creating the association was the restrictive coronavirus regulations, there are longer term goals that will keep the LBRA going even after the pandemic passes, Dene said. Collaborations with business association including the BSBA, Downtown Long Beach Alliance, Bixby Knolls Business and Improvement Association and more are expected, and an ongoing presence at City Hall will remain a priority.
"We could even consider ways we could buy supplies together," Dene said. "It would give us some savings in scale. But mostly, it's a matter of speaking with a unified voice."
Other members of the 10-seat board include Dave Ursini, Naples Rib Company; Geoff Rau, The Hide Away; Michael Neufeld, The Gaslamp; Rod Frontino, Dogz Bar and Grill; David Lott, Belmont Brewing Company; George Mlouk, Nico's Restaurant; and Eric Johnson, Legends and the Auld Dubliner. Alex Cherin has been tapped as the executive director.
Membership is $150 a year. For more information, go to www.lbrassociation.org.