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By Shawn Raymundo

When Nomads Canteen opened its doors around noon on Friday, May 1, to once again allow for dine-in services, it wasn’t long before the restaurant filled up with customers eager to grab a beer and eat a meal somewhere other than their home or on a city bench.

Social distancing measures were initially put in place, restaurant owner Jeff Gourley tells San Clemente Times. Tables inside, he said, were spread out, while patrons waiting on the patio area had been keeping their distance from one another.

That was the case until many of the protesters who had flocked to Downtown San Clemente for a rally against the state’s stay-at-home orders decided to make their way over to Avenida Cabrillo where Nomads is the only known restaurant in town that’s now open for dining.

“We set out to keep social distancing per the county requirements,” Gourley said, adding: “The deck stayed pretty socially distant until the rally just ended a few minutes ago, and the rally came (to the restaurant), so they kind of filled in the spaces right now. We’re doing what we can do and letting people make their own decisions. That’s kind of where we’re at.”

One street over, on Avenida Del Mar, dozens of people had gathered as part of the ongoing demonstrations against the social distance policies while advocating for the reopening of businesses and California’s economy.

Friday’s rally, which had routinely been held on Sundays in recent weeks, coincided with the annual May Day Marches that are meant to support workers’ rights.

Throughout much of the public health crisis that has stalled economic activity, Nomads had remained open for takeout services on weekends. But Gourley decided May 1 would be the date to officially reopen the bar and in-person dining, believing a prolonged closure would put him out of business.

“I chose May 1 over a month ago. I closed a day before the mandate. I wanted to know what was going on with the virus. I was all about stopping it, (to) ‘flatten the curve,’” he said.

“I said, I’ll give (the state and county) six weeks, and I’ll open May 1,” he continued. “That’s the date I picked because if we go beyond that, the economic injury is so extreme to the entire city that I don’t think we’ll recover.”

Further addressing the influx of customers who packed the restaurant on Friday afternoon, Gourley said it wouldn’t be happening if other restaurants reopened. He stressed that it’s up to his customers to decide whether they’re comfortable dining in or not.

“I’m the only place open; it concentrates the people,” he said, adding: “I set up everything for social distancing, but I’m not going to go move people. I’m not going to determine who’s a family member. I can’t.”

As for his staff, Gourley said he also allowed the servers to make their own call on whether to return to work. About half of them, he said, weren’t willing to come back just yet.

According to Gourley, he’s been able to acquire serology test kits from a connection of his, and has been regularly testing his staff for COVID-19 antibodies before they’ve been allowed to start their shifts.

“One hundred percent of my staff was negative, so every single person here (today) we tested,” he said.

Asked whether he was concerned with the potential for customers to spread the virus to his employees, he said didn’t have any, “because my people are young (and) healthy.” He went on to cite the county health office’s data that shows roughly 70% of those who have died from the virus in Orange County were 65 and older.

Noting that the daily number of new cases in San Clemente has leveled in recent weeks, he questioned where the virus would originate. 

“Where’s it going to come from? We’ve all been quarantining at home,” he said before repeating the question for emphasis. “Where’s it going to come from?”

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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comments (20)

  • Good for Nomads! We will definitely be there to support!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Redlener and Joseph Fair, a senior fellow in pandemic policy at Texas A&M University, sent a report to all governors on Friday, warning them that no state or city should reduce restrictions until coronavirus infections have been steadily decreasing for 10 days to two weeks, and not until enough tests are available to assess just how many people really are infected.

    Thanks, Nomads. You just set back all of us who have been social distancing for weeks. I’ll never patronize this restaurant

    • Sherry, please don’t visit our slice of heaven. If you live here, move. Keep voting democrat.

    • re: “Thanks, Nomads. You just set back all of us who have been social distancing for weeks.”

      What are you trying to accomplish by your social distancing?

      Simple question: Are you trying to prevent any deaths from the Covid-19 virus or are you trying to prevent any person from getting the virus? The latter has never been possible except through extreme measures with very high morbities, say the Hong Kong flu in 1997 with 59% death rate where they slaughtered all the chickens who were the vector.

      What are you trying to accomplish.
      Remember we not prevented a single flu virus in modern history.
      We’ve not developed a flu vaccine with better than a 50/50 success rate.
      We have not elminated the common cold. We don’t shut down our society because of it.

  • “because my people are young (and) healthy.”
    So they will be asymptomatic and spread the virus to others that might not be young and healthy and put their lives at risk. You can only think of yourself.

  • In San Clemente we probably have 10,000 – 20,000 people over 65 and/or with medical conditions that put them at risk for developing serious complications or death if they get COVID-19. And unlike seasonal influenza, for which these folks can be vaccinated, there’s not a vaccine to protect them from Coronavirus. How do all of these people crowded into Nomads without face masks, and those at the rally, know that they’re not spreading the virus to someone else there who then goes to the grocery store and spreads it to someone who works there, who brings it home to their senior parent? Do they think the 10-20 thousand people at risk who live in San Clemente should be in full quarantine, not interacting with anyone who is out in the community?

  • This is a rich, your worried about these people at the bar when your drunk/drug addict friends are a virus on this city. They spread their filth and s%$# all over our beaches and you have enough nerve to get on here and bitch about people buying a meal without a mask.

    The only threat to this town is you and your friends….Again you don’t live in SC and you aren’t welcome in SC.

    • Julie, what the f are you talking about? You sound like you’re so fired up you can’t even think straight enough to write an understandable paragraph.

      Julie, get off your high horse and try being real for once and use your head for something other than a hat rack.

    • Shut up Karen. Like you’ll do anything about it. The best case scenario is you conservatives take one for the team and revamp the local economy and slowly die off from the virus one by one. Good riddance

  • Serology tests require blood to be drawn from a vein. Who at your restaurant is drawing blood from your employees for this serology tests you say you are administering?

  • This is too bad. We really used to enjoy Nomad’s. It’s unfortunate but we will not be patronizing them again. We will instead continue to support the other many local businesses who are doing the right thing for the community and doing their best to adapt to this unfortunate situation.

  • This guy is lying when he says his customers are young and healthy. I have pictures on the day with the bar packed, and in one frame of shot there are both obese and many elderly people who are too ignorant to know how he’s endangering them and potentially setting off super-transmitters into our great community. This place is a festering pile of germs anyhow. And the food sucks.

  • Anyone who thinks they might contract any illness, or convey it to one of their loved ones unwittingly, ought to not go to that restaurant or any other place outside of their home. Whatever health issues you may have I simply encourage you to recognize you have the right to stay home and they have the right to conduct their business, and Customers have the right to do business there!. All of those rights were given by God, and are codified in the US Constitution. Congress is not “allowed ” or ” permitted” to infringe upon your right to do either of those things. Nor can any governor, mayor, police chief, sheriff, or store owner refuse you those rights. Regardless of what any corrupt judge may state, they too, do not have a constitutional right to “judge” or” rule” or “order” you to do anything or not do anything.!!! All of those rules/orders are illegal and treat you as though you were a pre-revolutionary colonist who was the subject of the king of England: You are not a subject, you are a free person, YOU are the government!!! I invite you to read the US Constitution and require your “elected officials” who are there to represent you, not to rule over you, to read the document they have sworn to uphold and defend. If they neglect to read it or stay true to it, they should be immediately released of their job, not you released of yours!! Do not submit your self to to Congress, your governor, your mayor, or anyone else who believes you do not have those rights. People died so you could have them!! Live in honor of their shed blood.

    Dine out, or stay home, you have the right to choose!

    Love you each!! Either stay home in peace, or dine in in peace!

    His peace be with you each!!

  • The condition of a decline in COVID infections for some period being the criteria for opening runs into a Catch 22. We are rapidly ramping up testing beyond that needed for clinical or therapeutic purposes. As such, there is a possibility that we will see an increase in “infections” that we were not catching before as anyone can get tested, symptomatic or not. Thus, the increase in infections could be an artifact of greater testing; not more infections. A better metric would be hospital admissions. A lot of moving parts right now. Needless to say, we cannot do what we are doing forever, This will destroy the economy.

  • You just can’t fix stupid….but at least you can not patronize it…..

    • While I’ve never heard of Nomads, their courage and dedication to freedom have made them my new favorite establishment. I will patronize them at my first opportunity.

  • Set us back,,, thanks Nomad!

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