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General manager Dave Knapp serves some early birds Monday at Café Habana in Malibu Lumber Yard. Scott Steepleton/Surfside News
Scott Steepleton, Editor
5:09 pm PDT April 5, 2021

As soon as the open sign went up Monday morning customers were ready to take a seat at Café Habana in the Malibu Lumber Yard.

The day marked the first in which restaurants and other businesses in Los Angeles County could operate under the looser restrictions of the second least restrictive tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-tier Blueprint For a Safer Economy.

While being in the orange tier means restaurants can serve indoors at half their normal capacity — up from 25 percent — Monday also marked the first time in a long time Café Habana actually offered full-fledged table dining and Dave Knapp did what any good short-staffed general manager would do: he sat the guests, took their order and made sure everything was OK.

“This is a step closer to normalcy,” Knapp told Surfside News about what being in the orange tier means. “We have been doing takeout, but we have had the patio and 25 percent of the restaurant available for seating. Now we’ll actually be able to plate food, and the customers will feel like a more normal environment.”

If there’s been one constant at Café Habana, it’s the machine churning out blended margaritas made with Casamigos tequila — created by restaurant co-owner Rande Gerber and actor George Clooney — and that machine was ready for anyone on spring break who might want to get the day started with a cocktail.

Each comes with a specialty sipper.

“They’re so popular,” said Knapp. “I go through like 35 cases a week. People collect them.” 

A decrease in covid deaths, hospitalizations and cases in Los Angeles County prompted the move to the orange tier. That was March 31; the relaxing of rules took effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Gyms, salons and other businesses that were already open can now welcome more customers, while museums and other establishments got the OK to open indoors, with restricted capacity.

On Monday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed one new covid-related death and 366 new cases.

Three months ago, there were 14,200 daily cases.

Malibu has seen 398 cases and seven deaths.

Monday also saw the easing of travel restrictions. While public health officials say travel is associated with additional covid risks, travelers who are fully vaccinated — meaning two weeks have passed after their second dose for Pfizer or Moderna, or after their single dose of Johnson & Johnson — can now travel and will not be required to test or quarantine upon their arrival in Los Angeles County if they do not have any symptoms of illness.

Travelers who are not fully vaccinated must quarantine for seven full days after travel if they receive a negative covid test result taken three to five days after their arrival. If a traveler does not get tested after they arrive in los Angeles County, they must quarantine for a full 10 days.

All travelers, regardless of their vaccination status, must self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after their arrival, and should get tested and isolate if they develop symptoms.

Just as they warn the public while easing travel restrictions, officials say that re-opening and easing restrictions in certain business sectors often leads to an increase in cases.

Malibu, however, has seen no spike in cases associated with any establishment.

Other restaurants, including Marmalade Cafe at Malibu Village, have been serving indoors since a restriction on that practice ended about a month ago. Café Habana, however, took its time.

“We’re actually late off the starting block doing this,” Knapp said. “But we’ve been very, very busy. We're just trying to acclimate toward this to do it correctly. This is a big place.”

“I am at this moment a one-man show," he added before getting back to his customers. "Well, I have my food runner, Oscar. So, I'm like a two-man show.”