A Laguna Beach restaurant manager recently received two citations for failing to comply with the stay-at-home order, marking the first crackdown by local code enforcement staffers during the current surge in COVID-19 cases.
Laguna Beach police cited Selanne Steak Tavern’s general manager, Chad Sisco, for failing to obey a lawful order—the mandatory closure of on-site dining—on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17, according to the citations. The documents were obtained by the Independent after filing a public records request Tuesday.
Additionally, Laguna Beach code enforcement staffers sent restaurant proprietors Kevin Pratt and Teemu Selanne a letter on Dec. 17 stating an inspection found their expanded dining area violated the terms of their conditional use permit and to immediately remove a tent until a temporary use permit was obtained.
The letter notified the restaurant’s operators that failure to submit an application and obtain necessary permits by a Jan. 4 deadline could result in an administrative citation, which includes a $100 daily fine.
In December, City Manager John Pietig said city leaders are sympathetic to the financial hit restaurants are enduring because of the pandemic but ultimately want them to voluntarily comply with the regional health order. Laguna Beach police followed other local police agencies, including the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, in adopting an education-first approach to enforcing the Dec. 3 stay-at-home order.
“I should also point out that Selanne’s did eventually cooperate and comply,” City Manager John Pietig wrote in an email.
The restaurant is currently allowing customers to place to-go orders and enjoy them on its outdoor veranda without waiting service, according to a Tuesday post on its Facebook page. Laguna Beach officials discourage residents from gathering with people outside of their household but they have so far acquiesced to restaurant patrons ordering to-go and sitting down to eat at outdoor tables on a restaurant’s property.
For now, this outdoor dining arrangement without waiters or waitresses appears to fall outside the scope of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order for Southern California.
Since 2013, Selanne has operated out of a historic home built in 1934 at 1464 S. Coast Hwy. It’s namesake, Temu Selanne is a 2007 Stanley Cup winner, former Anaheim Ducks player, six-time Olympian, and member of the NHL Hall of Fame.
Pratt and Selanne didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday, according to the restaurant’s public relations firm.
When asked for comment on the state of her industry, Nirvana Grille Executive Chef Lindsay Smith said Laguna Beach restaurant operators face a hard balancing act.
“We’ve got our staffs that need to work. We as the owners need to pay our expenses,” Smith said. “The longer [restaurants] continue to be open and keep having this heightened state of infections the longer we’re going to be closed.”
Smith argues there seems to be a double standard for ordering the closure of restaurants and hair salons while large retail stores and grocers are allowed to accept customers.
“It’s not the restaurants that are at fault,” she said. “We’re clean. It’s the other places where people go. It’s asinine what places [the state] has chosen to shut down and what are still open.”
Nirvana Grille offers 14 seats to customers who order meals to-go and want to eat at an outdoor patio. Employees provide plastic silverware, sanitize tables after each use, and ask customers to bus their own table.
“I want my staff to feel safe and confident,” Smith said.