Ocean Diner in Hermosa Beach has reopened after being shuttered for three months, though the outdoor dining allowed under coronavirus health rules won’t be a boon to the restaurant, its owner said.

Rick Hankus reopened the popular, longstanding diner he has owned for 34 years on Friday, Feb. 26. Hankus is happy, he said, to be serving his loyal customers and to bring back his longtime employees. But with only eight outside tables and some to-go business, he is only able to break even.

“Hopefully, this will pick up,” Hankus said. “Then, slowly, I will be able to breathe better. I haven’t been breathing very well lately.”

Similar to most restaurant owners, the coronavirus pandemic has hit Hankus hard. Before the initial shut down, nearly a year ago, Ocean Diner — originally called Grandma’s Place before Hankus bought it — had 16 tables and 10 counter stools inside. On a busy Sunday, the restaurant, 959 Aviation Blvd., would boast an 18-person crew.

But under current health orders, which ban indoor dining, restaurants must ensure proper social distancing on outdoor patios, reducing the number of customers they can seat.

“I want to get back to where it was before,” Hankus said, “when my waiters are making money, I’m making money and the customers are being able to enjoy themselves inside and out.”

But when that will be is unknown.

Ocean Diner and all other restaurants in Los Angeles County had to close for a second time ahead of the winter holidays, when Gov. Gavin Newsom implemented a regional stay-at-home order that forced widespread shutdowns of multiple industries while intensive care units were overwhelmed. Newsom lifted that order on Jan. 25, returning the state to the color-coded tier system.

Under that system, restaurants could once again open for outdoor dining.

While many restaurants rushed to reopen, Hankus waited.

Hankus, who also owns Java Man on Pier Avenue, said one of the reasons he didn’t rush to reopen is because he wanted the weather to warm up.

“It’s hard to enjoy a nice breakfast at six in the morning,” he said, “when it’s 45 degrees outside.”

Hankus also said he was hoping Newsom would allow some indoor dining.

While warmer weather eventually arrived, indoor dining hasn’t — yet.

Under state guidelines, indoor dining is banned in the most-restrictive “purple” tier, which Los Angeles County has been in since the color-coded system went into effect early on in the pandemic.

Indoor dining, however, is allowed in the “red” tier, though capacity is severely restricted, to 25% or 100 people — whichever is less.

To move to the red tier, the county needs both a positive testing rate of 8% or lower and a new daily case rate of 7 or fewer per 100,000 people. LA County’s positive testing rate is currently 5.1%, according to state data, and its new daily case rate is 12.3 per 100,000 people.

But even being able to allow a small number of customers inside would be welcome.

“Even 25% more tables,” Hankus said, “would definitely help any business person.”

It would also help his employees — though the community has come through with support in the meantime.

Anthony Morrison, owner of The Londoner hair saloon — just up the street from Ocean Diner — created an online fundraiser that brought in $23,635, which was distributed to Ocean Diner employees, some of whom have worked at Ocean Diner for decades, Hankus said.

But community fundraisers are not a long-term solution.

Ending the pandemic — vaccine distribution has picked up, and cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been declining for weeks — and loosening restrictions, however, is.

Hankus said he hopes some indoor dining will be allowed by summer.

“It’s not the most ideal,” Hankus said. “I don’t have the nice areas like they do in Manhattan Beach or here on Pier Avenue.

“This isn’t the prettiest street,” he added, “but it’s all I got.”

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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