A long line snaked from Pink’s Hot Dogs on Sunday evening as customers tried to score one last bite from the storied Hollywood eatery before it closed its doors for two months.
The 81-year-old hot dog stand at La Brea and Melrose avenues announced Thursday over social media that on Monday it would shut down voluntarily through at least March amid a coronavirus spike that has sent the number of infections in the county into record territory and seriously strained local hospitals.
Richard Pink, co-owner of the restaurant, said it was a safety decision, not a financial one.
“I just couldn’t live with myself and my guilt, if you will, if … a customer or an employee got sick and they couldn’t get into the hospital,” Pink said by phone Monday. “I just felt that we’re in a crisis situation.”
One of the eatery’s employees tested positive for the virus about three weeks ago after contracting the infection from a relative who works as a nurse, Pink said, adding that his worry about the health and safety of his other employees prompted the decision to temporarily close.
Pink said he would pay the about 25 employees who were losing work because of the closure until their unemployment insurance kicked in.
There are several other licensed Pink’s restaurants — including one in Universal CityWalk and another in the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance — that Pink says he does not control beyond their food specs.
Over the decades, the original stand — which started as a cart on the same corner in 1939 — has seen its share of tumult, including a world war. But no crisis has forced it to close prior to the pandemic, Pink said.
The stand, where customers pull up in everything from “limos to pickups,” closed in March when the pandemic first hit L.A. County, but it reopened in August. During that time, the restaurant implemented safety protocols and reopened with patio dining — until that was again prohibited beginning the day before Thanksgiving.
Some restaurant owners have bristled at the restrictions and the financial toll they are taking on the industry. Scores of restaurants across the state have had to close permanently, unable to stay afloat as revenue plummeted.
Pink said he understood the opposition to the closures, acknowledging the financial devastation others have seen.
“This isn’t me trying to be a leader or trying to influence them on what to do,” he said. “It’s what I had to do to protect my staff and and my customers. It isn’t to inspire others. It isn’t to ridicule and criticize others.”
Speaking to people in line Sunday, Pink said most customers and employees supported the reasoning behind the decision.
One man sitting outside the door at 8 a.m. — an hour and a half before opening — said he was there to procure hot dogs to freeze until his birthday in February, Pink said.
It’s a testament to the devotion that the restaurant inspires among its patrons.
“That was amazing — to see this guy sitting there like it was the Rose Parade,” he said.
The plan is to reopen the stand sometime in March, when Pink thinks the virus will be better under control and vaccine distribution becomes more widespread. If the situation is still dire, he said, the stand may remain closed longer.