As employers throughout the country continue to adapt to Covid-19 challenges, shifting services and implementing changes to comply with increased safety measures in their struggle to survive this crisis, local restauranteur Helene Henderson, founder and chef of the beloved Malibu Farm Restaurant and Café on the Malibu Pier, grapples daily with keeping her business alive.
“Dining rooms are still closed, of course, but we are doing outside patio seating,” says Helene. “Obviously we are lucky to have amazing outdoor areas, however, with the spacing requirements we have about half the amount of tables.”
Reduced seating presents yet another hurdle among the many encountered since businesses closed during the early days of the pandemic. In March, Malibu Café pivoted to offer to-go meals, which proved unsuccessful, says Helene.
“The city of Malibu was basically shut down—the pier parking lot as well as all PCH street parking was closed, and there was no parking anywhere. Although we were allowed to sell food to-go, for customers to pick up the food, they would have to walk two miles... obviously, not a sustainable model for any restaurant. Anyone even pulling over for a few minutes to pick up an order would get ticketed.”
Luckily, Helene’s second restaurant fared better.
“Our Lido, Newport Beach location, on the other hand, is in an area where the parking lot and street parking remained open, so we were able to do viable sales through a more traditional to-go model,” she says.
Months later, despite the easing of restrictions, local businesses brace for the future.
“I am definitely pretty worried about the fall and winter, which traditionally is pretty slow for us,” Helene says. “Add a further drop due to Covid and it would be challenging to manage,” she continues, noting the need for community support.
“There will be very little international tourism, so we will have to hope that locals come out and support all restaurants through the winter season.”
Throughout the crisis, Helene and her staff have stepped up to lend a hand.
“When our local farmer, Larry Thorne, was telling me they were swamped with work on the farm, selling to locals instead of restaurants, and they did not have enough staff to manage the demand, I had young staff we were trying to retain but with no work for them,” says Helene. “We had nothing to do, and so we left the pier and went to work on the farm.”
The unexpected venture yielded rewards.
“Going to the farm was AMAZING!” Helene exclaims. “Because we were outdoors, we were picking and packaging local produce, we were breathing fresh air, touching the soil, remembering where we came from, and we felt hope. And although we went there to help him, he may have helped us more. We needed that reset,” says Helene, who also partnered with "Off their Plate” to provide food for hospital workers and fed school children with GoodEats.org. It “was definitely a lifesaver, mentally and emotionally. We had a purpose and a goal each morning to get up and feed our frontline health care workers. We cooked over 12,000 meals.”
Despite circumstances, Helene remains optimistic.
“We usually do a lot of fall events on the pier—free pumpkin carving, Thanksgiving dinner, gingerbread decorating… everything right now is on hold, as we do not know what we will be able to do!” she shares, but, “I still bought pumpkins just today, cause if nothing else, we will have pumpkins!”
Support local and dine at Malibu-Farm.com.