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'Just don't panic. Drink some vino' | Local restaurants get creative to keep doors open amid coronavirus pandemic

From dine-in to bodega, local restaurants are transforming their operations in order to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — As a statewide mandate to stay at home went into place Friday, one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic was local restaurants.

For some restaurants, like Sacramento's Old Soul Co., they've seen business decline by more than half. But they've kept three out of four business locations open by finding new and creative ways to serve customers.

Old Soul Co. has managed to keep the locations running during the pandemic by creating a "community commissary program," so locals can continue to shop and pick up to-go orders.

"[The community] has an option instead of going to a very overcrowded grocery store, they can come here and get coffee, coffee beans and stock up on their pantry at the same time," said Old Soul Co. co-owner Tim Jordan.

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Many local restaurants and businesses are having to transform their traditional services in order to keep afloat.

Midtown's Aioli Bodega Espanola has shifted from a dine-in restaurant to a true bodega, something proprietor and manager Aziz Bellarbi-Salah had to think out of the box for.

"We moved all the shelves out of the kitchen. We moved refrigerators and started stocking shelves," said Bellarbi-Salah. "Within 12 hours we were a bodega!"

Working with other local businesses, Bellarbi-Salah's "bodega" now has locally sourced goods, wine, food, produce and even toilet paper available for purchase. This has helped Aioli keep their salaried staff employed.

In Carmichael, Cantina Azteca began selling to-go "emergency family meals," equipped with all the fixings for a Mexican feast like rice, beans, meat and perhaps most unique of all — two rolls of toilet paper.

"Everybody is fighting for toilet paper, so we got toilet paper," said co-owner and manager Jonathan Pantoja.

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Pantoja came up with the idea of serving to-go family meals on Thursday. Since launching Friday, they had already received an array of customer orders. They also plan on starting to sell to-go margaritas and mojitos, something Alcohol and Beverage Control informed them they're allowed to do.

Bellarbi-Salah also is selling wine and alcohol. He hopes locals will use his resources and advice to keep positive.

"Just don't panic. Drink some vino," said Bellarbi-Salah. "Come buy some vino from me. Help out your neighbors as best you can."

All three businesses had the commonality of their work being full circle: by creatively providing locals with the goods we need, restaurants are able to stay afloat and keep staff employed. 

"It's a scary and ever-changing time where uncertainty rules so we're trying to put a positive face on it for staff and community," said Jordan. "We're stronger together."

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