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Davis, California

Friday, May 24, 2024

Davis experiences unhealthy air quality, reducing restaurant outdoor dining, waitstaff hours

Avoid smoke inhalation health effects by reducing outdoor activities when possible

Northern California wildfires have resulted in poor air quality in the city of Davis, which has experienced consistently unhealthy air since early September. 

The air quality index (AQI) in Davis reached a high of 191 on Sep. 12, according to the U.S. Air Quality Index. The Environmental Protection Agency explains that this number is unhealthy for all groups, with a greater risk for those in sensitive groups. 

“Everyone may begin to experience health effects when AQI values are between 151 and 200,” its website reads. “Members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.”

The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District website details how people can avoid harm from smoke inhalation, including staying indoors, knowing your risk level and checking and cleaning air conditioner filters. 

Unhealthy air quality has also further complicated Davis business models, which had previously shifted to being outdoors in order to better accommodate social distancing. 

Davis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cory Koehler said that poor air quality caused a decrease in outdoor dining, but a rise in delivery and take-out.

“Once the fires hit and the air quality got worse, sales went down in terms of outdoor dining, but restaurants are seeing an uptick in people taking out and in deliveries,” Koehler said. “I think once the air gets better, we’ll probably see an uptick in outdoor dining again.”

Co-owner of Crepeville and Burgers and Brews Derar Zawaydeh explained that although there are more delivery and take-out orders, high fees from food delivery apps greatly reduce profits for the restaurant. 

“The delivery that we do is through food delivery services,” Zawaydeh said. “They’re O.K., but the fact that they charge so much—for both the customer and the business—it doesn’t help a whole lot. They’re charging between 20 and 30% of the value of the ticket, so we still make a little bit of money, but the amount of profit is definitely reduced.”

In addition to relying more on delivery and pick-up, Koehler described how many restaurants are offering promotional deals to appeal to more customers. 

“For restaurants, they’re marketing a lot—they’re doing a lot of campaigns to encourage people to come in, order and pick up their food,” Koehler said. “So I think that’s what they’re going to have to shift to, if the fire season remains bad. And we’re just at the beginning of the fire season, so we could see this for a while.”

Zawaydeh added that less customers dining outdoors has reduced the amount of wait staff necessary, although he tries to give everyone at least some hours.

“Labor is based on the business,” Zawaydeh said. “We do our best to give staff as many hours as we possibly can, but certain times we are forced to send them home early. We try to give all of them at least some hours because all of us have our own expenses. I would hate to lay off people because of the poor air quality, which I’m hoping is temporary.”

As of Sep. 15, the air quality index in Davis dropped to 102, according to the U.S. Air Quality Index. This places air quality into the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups category.

Despite the poor air quality and ongoing pandemic, Zawaydeh is grateful for the Davis community and hopeful for the future, which includes reopening Crepeville. 

“We have been blessed with a great community here in Davis that has shown a lot of support for our business, and we are trying to open Crepeville now,” Zawaydeh said. “Hopefully that will happen in the near future.”

Koehler expressed confidence in the Davis business community, which he says continues to adapt in order to stay afloat. 

“People are adjusting,” Koehler said. “The businesses in Davis are resilient—they’re doing a lot to hang on.”

Written by: Eden Winniford –– city@theaggie.org


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