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Small business survey results, panel discussion highlight ways restaurant owners navigated pandemic

5 Minute Read

A new survey sponsored by Union Bank found that small business owners in California are feeling optimistic about their future after making large COVID-19-related investments, sentiments that were echoed in a virtual panel discussion about how restaurant owners have navigated the pandemic.

The pandemic-related survey is the third the bank has conducted with small business owners in recent months, with previous surveys being released in October and November 2020.

“The survey showed that the pandemic has had its silver linings for many business owners, including business efficiencies, the rewarding feeling of overcoming a challenge, and solidifying their passion for what they do,” says Todd Hollander, Head of Business and Small Business Banking.

Among the survey’s findings are:

  • California small business owners invested an average of $28,000 to operate within government guidelines and remain open during the pandemic.
  • Businesses in the restaurant and hospitality sectors spent an average of $74,000, focusing on cleaning/sanitization services, delivery services, personal protective equipment, and updated signs.
  • Six in 10 small business owners are optimistic about their futures, with many attributing their optimism to the vaccine rollout and federal stimulus package.
  • The pandemic had a disproportionate impact on women-owned small businesses, with 64 percent of women small business owners saying they felt no control over the situation versus 54 percent of men small business owners. Women also reported median revenue losses of 50 percent while men reported median losses of 35 percent.

The 61 percent small business optimism level is significantly higher than it was when the bank conducted its survey in October, when only 13 percent of business owners in California said they could see a path for their businesses to survive.

“We are in close contact with our business clients and we know how tough the last year has been for them,” Hollander says. “We’re glad that so many of them are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.”  

California small business panel discussion

In addition to releasing the survey, the bank on May 14 hosted a virtual panel discussion, “Dishing On: Road to Recovery for Restaurants in L.A.,” to share more insights about how small businesses are addressing challenges related to the pandemic.

California small business panel discussion

The discussion was moderated by radio personality Frank Mottek and featured California small business owner Mark Verge, Black Business Association Board Member and small business owner Rosalind Pennington, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Maria Salinas, Union Bank Small Business Program Manager Devon Barrack and Todd Hollander.

The full 90-minute event can be viewed here.

Some highlights from the discussion:

  • Pennington owns the New Townhouse nightclub and pivoted the business to focus on food service in order to stay open and generate revenue. This meant initially focusing on takeout/delivery options, then adding outdoor dining when it was allowed, adding limited indoor dining when it was allowed and, two days after the event, resuming entertainment/dancing.
  • Verge, who owns several restaurants, as well as other California small businesses as part of The Verge Company, talked about how difficult it was to sustain restaurants when they could only provide takeout/delivery. He was able to get creative and package and sell salad dressing at one restaurant, Golden Bull, and was able to sell a “phenomenal” number of gift cards to generate revenue. “When you wake up in the morning, you have to figure out how you’re going to make money,” he said.

  • Salinas and the others talked about the new mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people that were issued by the CDC the day before the event, highlighting the struggles of adhering to local guidelines when they differ from federal guidelines. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the Black Business Association provide resources and technical assistance to help business owners understand and follow the latest guidelines and specific industry nuances.

  • Barrack highlighted ways that Union Bank supports women business owners through diversity lending programs, and talked about the need for people to shop and dine at women-owned businesses and restaurants.


For more information

May 2021 California Small Business Mid-Year Mindshift Survey results, and press release

November 2020 Small Business Holiday Spending Survey results, and press release

October 2020 Small Business Mindshift Survey results, and press release

Video of Dishing On: Road to Recovery for Restaurants in L.A. panel discussion


Written by Erik Battenberg

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