With stimulus money still flowing and stay-at-home orders persuading many summer vacationers to travel locally, some Carpinteria restaurants had surprisingly good summer sales. Then, on Sept. 30, at 8 a.m., Santa Barbara County allowed restaurants to reopen their dining rooms at 25% capacity, giving restaurants a small boost as they welcomed in the fall season. 

“Business is good,” said Ryo Nakabayashi, manager and chef at Sushi Teri. “We had one of the best summers, only with to-go. It was amazing.” While Nakabayashi was happy with the summer numbers, he noted that after Labor Day and after the stimulus checks ran out, “things got mellow.” Over the next six months, Nakabayashi hopes that he can stay steady, noting that things are coming back slowly already and he’s not sure how the elections might affect business. 

Opening up the dining room, even at 25%, has allowed restaurants like Sushi Teri to offer a now novel dining experience. “People seem to want to sit inside, maybe they’re sick of dining outside,” said Nakabayashi. “They’re happy to be getting more attention from servers too.”

But not every restaurant has opted to open for inside dining. Giovanni’s and Oaxaca Fresh, for example, have opted to keep their dining rooms closed. Both restaurants have large patios with substantial seating. Hailey Carmona, owner of Oaxaca Fresh, said he wants to wait until customers seem more comfortable eating inside. “People still seem afraid,” said Carmona, “and we have outside seating.” 

The summer was good for Oaxaca Fresh’s business which remains steady. “It’s the weather,” credited Carmona, “we had a real summer.” But it’s not as many locals this year, he noted. “It’s lots of tourists, especially people from Los Angeles and Bakersfield. To be honest, I haven’t seen as many regular customers since the pandemic. Without people from out of town, I don’t know what business would work.”

Alcohol sales are up too at Oaxaca Fresh, making up roughly half of the restaurant’s sales. Carmona noted, “When the weather is good, people want to drink.”

Other sectors that are now open for inside service at limited capacity are retail (50%), gyms (10%), churches (25%) and movie theaters (25%). 

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