Cassava, a popular restaurant located in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond District, had been open for brunch, dinner, and alcohol takeout since San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order went into effect nearly a month ago. According to Cassava co-owner Yuka Ioroi, while they haven’t been seeing a wild profit with this new model, it was enough to sustain the business — but as patrons aren’t practicing proper social distancing or wearing masks, she has to temporarily shut her business down to keep herself and her employees safe.
Ioroi says that over the weekend she saw far too many people on the street and in nearby Golden Gate Park failing to observe the now-ubiquitous six-foot rule and not wearing protective face coverings. Speaking with Eater SF, she says that “people are feeling that they can relax,” given the national attention to the Bay Area’s relatively low infection rates, and are starting to take chances with their health and the health of others.
“A couple times it was really alarming,” Ioroi tells Eater SF, describing large groups of people (“sometimes, ten people or more”) who stopped by her restaurant to pick up takeout orders that they planned to eat at the park. “One group asked for takeout utensils, and I said, ‘Aren’t you guys going back home? That’s the law,’” she says. “But they said, ‘Oh no, we’re having a picnic.’”
Some regions in California have required the use of masks by citizens who leave their homes — for example, last week, Beverly Hills mandated masks for all trips outside the home, and Sonoma County now requires masks for visits to indoor venues, as well as outdoor activities during which social distancing isn’t practiced.
Ioroi would like to see similar regulations in San Francisco, as she says that until city officials “come on strong,” people “won’t take things seriously.” “By not requiring masks,” Ioroi says, “the city is putting people in danger.”
She says that the true impact of that danger hit home when she saw how uncomfortable her employees were when faced with customers without masks and who “are standing close to you.” Her voice cracking with emotion, she says that she’s been “calling out Whole Foods and Amazon” regarding an alleged lack of worker protections against COVID-19, but that “I am just as bad if I just say to my workers, ‘Come in to work if you want.’ I had to make my own mandate if the city won’t.” (Eater SF has reached out to San Francisco’s Department of Public Health regarding any potential mask requirements, but has not received a response as of publication time.)
That employee discomfort is why she’s now closed Cassava to the public for the duration of the shelter in place, Ioroi says, and why she’s instead working with former Cassava chef Brenda Landa on an initiative called “Feeding The Industry,” which is intended to provide free homemade pasta kits to laid-off restaurant Industry workers. She’s also participating in Outer Richmond Meal Help, which distributes meals purchased by donors to needy area residents.
Ioroi tells Eater SF that she hasn’t had to lay any staffers off even though business started dropping in mid-February, when worries about the spread of coronavirus started to hit the U.S. She’s hopeful that between these two donor-driven programs, she can keep her business going until the city’s shelter in place is lifted. But that’s unlikely to happen on the May 3 deadline if outbreaks like last week’s — in which a homeless shelter went from five coronavirus cases to 70 in just a few days — continue.
“We’re seeing headlines about the governor lifting the order,” Ioroi says, “and that’s all people see. Meanwhile, we’re having a cluster of infections. No, this is not the time to relax...I can’t ask my workers to keep putting themselves in danger, though, when the city won’t even tell my customers they still need to do things to keep people safe.”