Jenny’s Diner, 7750 Palm Ave., reopened for dine-in service on Tuesday, May 26.

The county announced on Monday, May 25, that under its accelerated stage 2 recovery plan, destination retail stories, including shopping malls, swap meets and dine-in restaurants can reopen.

Jesse Lopez owns and manages Jenny’s, where the 1950s décor makes you feel like you’re at Arnold’s in the popular television program “Happy Days.” Lopez said customers started calling the day the county made the announcement asking when he would be open for dine-in service. Jenny’s had been keeping updated with state and local officials on the new rules and had been preparing to reopen.

Lopez had to lay off 13 of his 15 employees when the coronavirus pandemic forced him to shut down for four weeks, before reopening for take-out staffed only with himself, his wife and a cook. He said he has lost over $200,000 due to the partial closure. Lopez applied for the Payroll Protection Loan but was denied. He did receive $10,000 dollars from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program; this however could not make up for the losses Lopez endured the past three months. He said the 2008 recession “was nothing compared to what has happened this year.” His landlord has allowed him to stay even though he can’t pay the full rent of $8,400 a month.

For Lopez to reopen he had to spend over $3,000 to comply with new state and county health rules, which include the purchase of personal protective equipment, hand sanitizing stations. To comply with social distancing rules Lopez cannot use five of his booths nor the bar. He converted the bar into a supply station for his staff.

Lopez is making up for the lost seating by building an outside seating area. He also has to use plastic silverware, pre-packaged condiments and disposable menus.

Lopez’s food distributor US Foods provided the diner with a website to order take-out and has placed QR codes around the diner so customers who are uncomfortable touching a menu can order with their Smartphone. 

Lopez is “learning to adjust” and has called up his former employees telling them they can have their jobs back, five of which are returning. Others have signed up for unemployment.

According to a field represenative from Assemblyman James Ramos’ office, during a conference call with legislators on Friday, May 15, the Employee Development Department (EDD) revealed that it’s website was in the middle of a major upgrade when the coronavirus hit. The new site was not set to go live until June, and the existing website was overwhelmed with the 15 percent of the state’s population now without a job. In addition to this, the EDD only had one representative to handle complaints when people started calling their state assembly and senators, giving that one person the equivalent of 5-plus year’s worth of work in two months.

According to the field represenative, Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to hire 1,600 people to fastrack the completion of the new EDD website but as of Friday, May 22, only 600 were hired.

Lopez understands if some of his former employees don’t want to come back. For the employees to come back they have to go through newly mandated health training by state and county officials, agree to wear face coverings and have their temperature taken before every shift.

Lopez won’t be requiring his customers to wear the coverings or have their temperature taken, he said that a majority of his customers are over the age of 60 and if forced to do the aforementioned actions they would refuse to come to his establishment. He said seniors are stubborn and do not like changes to their routine and that coming to his diner is a “social experience” and that the seniors have close friendships with his wait staff. 

Another adjustment Lopez has to get used to is the increased cost of products like meat which has skyrocketed due to the closure of meat plants across the country. He said the price of top sirloin has gone up over 200 percent. It used to cost him $5 a pound, now its $23 a pound. It isn’t just sirloin, Lopez said, meat, in general, has gone up, but he is hesitant to raise the prices on his menu and will try to endure in hopes that costs will go down.

Jenny’s menu has a variety of options from breakfast omelets, skillets and other breakfast items to burgers and sandwiches for lunch. They also have a wide variety of dinners that include steaks, roast turkey, liver, pork chops and fried chicken along with seafood. They also have healthy options from Weight Watchers and a few vegetarian options. Their jumbo bacon cheeseburger costs $8.99; it has a half-pound ground beef patty with two strips of crispy bacon, a slice of American cheese, topped with a homemade dressing and pickles along with a side of home or French fries. It is just as good if not better then any of the franchise or gourmet chains.

“The One & Only” Jenny’s Diner is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

To see their menu go to jennysdinerhighland.com

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