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Restaurants face tough challenge to remain viable

It’s been a rough couple of months for local restaurants that have had to get by without allowing in-restaurant dining.

And as San Joaquin County inches towards allowing patrons to return to their favorite eateries, the restaurants they love are waiting in anticipation for their beloved customers to once again break bread inside of their walls.

According to one local restaurant owner, not seeing her regular customers has been one of the hardest parts of managing life in the COVID-19 era.

“We really miss everybody – we get customers that’ll come by and check up on us and make sure we’re doing okay, but it’s not the same,” said Fatima Arroyo who runs Chubby’s Diner in Manteca with her brother Al. “We’re ready for people to come back and for things to get back to normal. We’ve never seen anything like this, and we never expected this to happen.”

The Arroyo Family has owned and operated Chubby’s for decades – most recently moving into the vacant space left behind when after Hollywood Video went out of business in Cardoza Center West at the corner Louise Avenue and Main Street.

On any given day the massive footprint – a marked increase in available space over the two previous locations – was packed with families, friends, and colleagues enjoying classic American plates and the pronounced 50’s feel.

While the take-out option that has existed since the shutdown went into effect have been picking up for the restaurant as of late, it’s still no comparison to the 25 tables and two counters that were almost always full.

And with a reduction in staff from almost that were on the payroll down to only three, the date to finally reopen and hopefully bring back that lost their sources of income can’t come soon enough.

“Right now, we don’t have a date yet, but we’re looking forward to being able to welcome people back – especially our staff, those that are able to come back,” Arroyo said. “We’re working to implement all of the changes that the governor announced this week so that we’re able to do that when the time comes.”

What restaurants will look like when they finally do reopen will be something that owners are trying to figure out as they eye the possibility of unlocking the doors.

One restaurant owner that asked not to be named said that they feared that even when open, the reduced capacity would make it harder to cover the overhead involved with running a restaurant – while they can make ends meet with takeout right now, having more staff and roughly the same amount of business will force some hard decisions.

For Arroyo, the entire dynamic that the family worked to build in their new location will be drastically different – right now it looks like both counters that serve as part of the unique charm of their eatery will be off the table for the foreseeable future, and not every booth will likely be able to be full.

“Right now we’re trying our best to keep our customers coming back, and have done things like appeal on Instagram and Facebook and push an online ordering platform that is contactless so that they can order and come and pick up and there is no swiping of cards or anything like that,” Arroyo said. “We’re doing everything we can, and we hope that it’s enough.”

To find out more about the online ordering platform recently rolled out by Chubby’s Diner, visit the restaurant’s pages on Facebook or Instagram or call them at 209.824.1856.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.