Downtown restaurateurs count themselves lucky: Going into Wednesday evening, recent protests in the area condemning police violence haven't been nearly as destructive as those in some other cities. But their businesses have nevertheless paid a substantial if intangible toll.
Customers have largely avoided the area since demonstrations in downtown Bakersfield started Friday. Business owners say diners are nervous protesters might veer into the kind of vandalism and even violence that has marred events in other cities honoring the in-custody death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
Dr. Nick Hansa, owner of Chef's Choice Noodle Bar at 19th and Eye streets, said dinner business is down by half because of the protests. Curbside pickup continues but dine-in service comes to a stop during the nightly protests, he said.
He doesn't condemn those responsible for the protests, however, saying, "I believe (in) everyone’s right to express opinions."
The protests arrived in downtown at a particularly sensitive time. Downtown businesses already slammed by escalating crime, vandalism and vagrancy in recent years suffered greatly during about two months of California's stay-home order.
After barely surviving on takeout service, many of the area's restaurants had only just reopened about a week before when the protests started.
Tina Brown, owner of Tina Marie’s Downtown Café at 2000 Chester Ave., said things were going "really super well" for maybe nine days until the protests started. Then customers began calling ahead to ask whether there were any protesters in the area.
Business has since begun to rebound, she said, after news reports came out showing Bakersfield's protests have been mild compared to elsewhere.
She and others expressed relief that local protesters have largely avoided making trouble, with notable exceptions such as the anti-police profanity sprayed on a vacant building across the street from her restaurant. There are some troublemakers out there, she said, but many demonstrators are being responsible.
"It's pretty peaceful down here," she said. "It’s more of a positive, not like what’s going on in Los Angeles.”
Probably the highest-profile property damage during recent downtown protests was the window broken Friday night at Bonnie's Best Cafe at 21st and F streets.
Owner Laurie Watson said it isn't clear if the vandal was a protester, but it appears they were with a group that left the area after police ordered demonstrators to disperse.
"It certainly wasn’t a peaceful protester," she said, adding her restaurant has been hit repeatedly by vandals in the past. "I don't know if they were with the protesters or if they were downtown agitators.”
The tale has since taken on a heartwarming feel, as previously reported by The Californian. Supporters of the restaurant, including a number who participated in Friday's protest, have since donated more than enough money to pay for the window's replacement.
There has even been an unexpected boom in business since the vandalism, Watson said, as customers have come to eat and contribute to the business in a showing of "unbelievable outpouring of support."
A vandal or vandals also suspected of being involved with the protests downtown have hit another business — that of Bakersfield trial lawyer Daniel Rodriguez.
He arrived at his Eye Street office near the corner with 20th Street Sunday morning to find graffiti scrawled outside the brick building. He said he was grateful the vandals didn't break a window and try to go inside.
Rodriguez said he advocates peaceful demonstrations highlighting Floyd's death, which he called "wrong on all levels."
"But looting and destruction of property is not going to help the cause at all," he said. "In fact, it’s going to detract from the message. The message is going to get lost."
The owner of Jerry's Pizza and Pub along Chester Avenue, Corina Topete, said protesters have been polite without exception as they walked past her business last weekend.
"Maybe a handful asked to use our bathroom. But we didn’t have anyone, like, disrespect our building, disrespect us or shout profanity," Topete said.
“I was OK with it," she added. "I wasn’t upset or angry that they were protesting."