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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Cronies Sports Bar Defies COVID Crackdown

Cronies Sports Bar and Grill, nestled in the Agoura Meadows Shopping Center at 5687 Kanan Road, entered the national spotlight last month as one of the first restaurants to openly defy Los Angeles County’s outdoor dining ban and continue serving patrons on site.

The decision proved divisive, cheered by supporters who feel the restriction is arbitrary and ineffective and booed by opponents who argue the restaurant is endangering public health as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths skyrocket in Southern California.Cronies Owner Dave Foldes told the Business Journal he feels like he has nothing to lose by breaking the rules and that halting on-site sales without additional federal aid would certainly shutter his restaurant for good.“We couldn’t survive,” he said.Restaurant squeezeEven with outdoor dining, Cronies is losing between $5,000 and $10,000 every month as rent and utility payments pile up, Foldes said. He added it would be more fiscally responsible to close entirely for a few weeks or even months rather than keep operating at such losses, but doing so would force employees to find work elsewhere.“We would have to lay people off,” Foldes said. “We chose not to do that because of the holidays. … So we just went against the rule, which we don’t even think is constitutional.”Foldes owns other Cronies restaurants in Simi Valley, Newbury Park, Camarillo and Ventura. Those restaurants have performed better amid the pandemic and have operated on a takeout-only model since the passage of the statewide “Safer at Home” order.Foldes said he took the situation in Agoura Hills as an opportunity to push back against what he considers an inexplicable regulation that doesn’t do anything to stop the spread of the virus.“It’s really a fight for all small businesses and their employees. These measures, which have no science to back them, are detrimental and closing businesses left and right,” he said. “How come you can go to the Home Depot and buy a leaf blower or some Christmas decorations, but you can’t eat outside? … This is the real reason (we’re staying open): the unfairness.”Civil disobedience?Unfair or not, flouting government mandates comes with consequences.

Cronies has amassed tens of thousands of dollars in fines for being out of compliance. Foldes said he isn’t going to pay immediately to see if the regulatory landscape changes.Agoura Hills City Manager Nathan Hamburger issued a statement last month detailing how Cronies would be penalized, following a series of hearings and appeals.

“Their Health Permit from Los Angeles County has been suspended (pending a hearing this week) along with their city permits for expanded outdoor dining in addition to potential adverse impacts on their state-issued license to sell alcohol not just at the Agoura Hills location but those in Ventura County  as well.”The co-owner of a neighboring business who requested to remain anonymous expressed empathy with Foldes but still disagreed with his decision.

“I understand the original point of it all – that it’s crazy what this is doing to the food industry. But I do not think its right he’s operating without a health permit while other businesses bend over backwards,” the co-owner said.

One such business is The Latigo Kid, a 33-year-old Mexican eatery that anchors the strip mall with an outdoor patio opposite Cronies.

Co-owner Diane Gomez said Cronies’ on-site dining operation is eating into her takeout business, but she blames L.A. County officials, not Foldes.

“People are tired of being told what to do, so they’re drawn to establishments where they can sit down,” she said. “It has impacted us just as it impacted us when Ventura County was open (for outdoor dining). … People would travel less than a mile to sit down.”Gomez added she disagrees with the ban, but has kept her restaurant compliant to avoid penalties and backlash from the public.In L.A. County, western-themed bar Tinhorn Flats in Burbank reopened its outdoor dining space Dec. 10, billing it as a “peaceful protest” against “tyrannical mandates and closures,” though the owner, Baret Lepejian, has come under fire for posting on social media angry rants against the use of masks and questioning the seriousness of the disease that has killed more than 300,000 people in the U.S.

Cronies in Agoura Hills has notably been the site of several partisan political rallies – one of which even included a booth hocking Trump-branded paraphernalia and other Republican Party-themed merchandise, according to the anonymous business owner – but Foldes claimed he didn’t organize the gatherings, doesn’t support them and notified the police when he learned what was happening.He said his choice to keep Cronies open was “not a political kind of thing,” and isn’t meant to downplay the seriousness of the virus, especially since his father died Easter Sunday after testing positive.

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