Pardall Road, the formerly bustling main strip of Isla Vista, is now almost desolate with only sparse groups of students hurriedly passing by the once lively restaurants and bars. Walk one street over to follow the quiet Embarcadero del Norte and you get to Woodstock’s Pizza, a small pizzeria and bar that used to serve hundreds of enthusiastically rowdy UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) students before the pandemic began.
Like all small businesses in Isla Vista (I.V.), Woodstock’s Pizza relied on the student population’s support to keep a steady stream of profits, but the COVID-19 quarantine diminished this customer base and caused severe economic strain for the pizzeria and its employees. Such financial strain has significantly lowered sales, most prominently during the first months of the pandemic, and decreased work hours for employees.
The initial stages of quarantine were especially difficult for business at Woodstock’s Pizza. As UCSB students left Isla Vista in droves, the pizzeria not only witnessed a sharp decline in profits, but also dealt with a severe lack of student employees, who made up over half of the staff. To make matters worse, small businesses all over Isla Vista were closing their doors, which only raised the alarming question: was Woodstock’s Pizza next?
Bryan Mathewson, the general manager at Woodstock’s Pizza, spoke with The Bottom Line to give a scope on how operations at the restaurant “were worse at the start of the pandemic, as there was a large adjustment period.”
“This store used to thrive without needing to reach out much or work for sales because of its prime location in I.V. But that has changed and we have been trying to expand our delivery business to stay afloat,” said Mathewson. Fortunately for the small restaurant, an in-house delivery team of drivers had been well-established years before the pandemic.
Expansions to this team focused on meeting the demand for contactless delivery and making up for the lack of revenue being brought in by dine-in customers. However, restaurants that could not quickly adapt to the pandemic business model were at much more of a risk for financial problems or closure, according to Mathewson.
“I would easily say that I have seen other restaurants struggle, and in some cases even close. The restaurants that have continued to succeed are trying out new angles to gain customers, or have had enough in reserve to take a loss and wait this pandemic out,” explained Mathewson.
Delivery options at Woodstock’s have shown some success, but the restaurant is still enduring a serious lack of business, which has translated into fewer shifts for employees. “We have reduced hours of operation and reduced sales, and that has resulted in reduced available hours for employees,” described Mathewson.
Arianna McDonald, a fourth-year political science student at UCSB, has been a delivery driver at Woodstock’s Pizza for eight months, and began experiencing financial difficulties when her hours were cut during the second stay-at-home order Governor Newsom called in December 2020.
“I have had to manage my budget a lot more carefully and cut back on spending … I try to get food at the food bank rather than buying expensive things at the grocery store,” said McDonald. “Most of my coworkers have found themselves in similar situations, where they don’t get enough shifts and try to take extra shifts from fellow coworkers.”
Such financial stressors and budgetary constraints have been common for many other small restaurant employees outside of Woodstock’s Pizza.
Alexander Boschert, a second-year biology student at Santa Barbara Community College (SBCC), described a period of unemployment that came about during the beginning of the pandemic when he was laid off at Silvergreens, another small restaurant in Isla Vista.
“In March, when lockdown began, I was working at Silvergreens and we closed outright,” said Boschert. “All my coworkers … were laid off as well as me. Some of them still don’t have a job and are supported by unemployment insurance and/or their parents.” Shortly after leaving Silvergreens however, Boschert was hired at Woodstock’s, alleviating many financial concerns.
The easygoing and cozy pizzeria is progressively regaining its customer base and pre-pandemic sales margins, something not every restaurant will achieve.
As described by Mathewson: “It has certainly been a challenging time for the entire food-service industry — for our team. But it has pushed us to make changes for the better that we will carry on once this pandemic is over, and I think [has] made us all realize how resilient we truly are.”