Customers who brought their own chairs to YonaRedz, at 532 State St. in downtown Santa Barbara, received a free queso taco Sunday afternoon as the startup restaurant simultaneously protested Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on outdoor dining and promoted the safety of the practice. (Jade Martinez-Pogue / Noozhawk photo)

YonaRedz, one of the newest additions to State Street’s restaurant scene in downtown Santa Barbara, held a free taco event Sunday to protest California’s latest closure of all outdoor restaurant dining.

“I want to promote the idea of eating outdoors,” Yona Estrada, owner of YonaRedz, told Noozhawk. “It’s much safer than ordering food with a large group of friends then going somewhere inside to eat.

“I want to raise awareness with my customers to let them know that it’s not OK to eat indoors with all your friends.”

Beginning at noon Sunday, customers could bring a folding chair to the restaurant, located at 532 State St., and receive a free queso taco. Lines were consistently out the door Sunday afternoon, and Estrada said he had already given out five tacos within the first 30 minutes.

“Food brings people together, and I’m hoping customers will walk down to the beach or the park to eat,” he said. “It’s just much safer to do the outdoor dining than going back home to dine with people outside your household.”

Ever since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s controversial stay-at-home order went into effect on Dec. 7, Santa Barbara County restaurants have been forced to shut down the outdoor dining set-ups that have been their lifeblood over the course of the 10-month coronavirus crisis.

While outdoor gym and recreation facilities remain operational under the latest lockdown, the prohibition of outdoor dining delivered a major blow to the restaurant industry.

“These sectors have worked their tails off since the reopening of the economy over the summer to meet every government-ordered mandate and instill top-notch procedures to keep you all feeling safe and happy as you dined outside with friends and family,” noted Estrada, a Westside native and first-generation business owner.

Yona Estrada

Just one month ago, Yona Estrada fulfilled a long-held dream to open his queso taco restaurant, YonaRedz. “Downtown is a ghost town right now,” he says. “I’m not trying to go against the government, it’s just a safety measure. It’s much safer to eat outdoors.” (Jade Martinez-Pogue / Noozhawk photo)

“The sudden shutdown has left tens of thousands of local restaurant workers with no answers, no financial assistance, or ability to know just how long they’re meant to hang on while their income is stripped away.”

Employees at YonaRedz have taken all the necessary health safety precautions to keep customers fed and happy, and want to promote the idea that eating outdoors is still safer than gathering inside, Estrada said.

“As long as everybody’s socially distanced, there should be no problem,” he said. “All the tables are gone, all the chairs are gone, but people still grab food and sit down on the sidewalk to eat anyway.”

Since the shutdown, Estrada has had to cut back on staff hours because of the lack of business without outdoor dining.

“People need to work, they need their income,” he said. “It’s probably the worst time for this shutdown.

“Downtown is a ghost town right now. I’m not trying to go against the government, it’s just a safety measure. It’s much safer to eat outdoors.”

Estrada opened up YonaRedz in mid-November, just as COVID-19 cases began to rise but outdoor dining was still allowed under all tiers of California’s COVID-19 framework. If his State Street location was successful, he hoped to expand to Old Town Goleta, Isla Vista and elsewhere, Estrada told Noozhawk in an earlier interview.

Despite the lack of official outdoor dining, YonaRedz has been able to maintain business because of its strong customer base, Estrada said.

“Everybody’s abiding by the rules, everything is to-go, people are pre-ordering,” he said. “We are taking all the precautions necessary not to get people sick.”

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at jmartinez-pogue@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.