BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The coronavirus pandemic has deeply hit home for a tradition that has been in Bakersfield since the city's roots - Basque dining. A family-style dining experience that once brought complete strangers shoulder to shoulder to share a meal. 23ABC's Daniela Garrido spoke with some Baksque-style restaurant owners on the challenges they are facing in keeping the tradition alive in Bakersfield.
"It's about sitting together and enjoying food together and passing the food back and forth like you did at your grandmas growing up," explained Rob Crawford, owner of Pyrenees Cafe, a Basque-style restaurant.
Now, a staple of this tradition will permanently close its doors.
"Noriega's closing, it was devastating. That's just part of our history," said an emotional Christiane Camou, owner of Wool Growers Restaurant. "It makes me sad because I won't be able to take my kids there and show them where my grandma started, that's where she learned how to cook."
"Everybody would bounce back and forth so to lose them is like losing the right arm of the neighborhood. They're the oldest," added Crawford.
Watching the iconic restaurant close has been emotional for its neighboring Basque restaurants.
"It's gonna take some getting used to because they've grown up for 40 and 50 years passing plates around," said Crawford.
The uncertainty of what the Basque dining experience could look like has forced owners to completely eliminate family-style dining altogether.
"I'm going to be honest we are worried about our business and I wouldn't be surprised if this continues this way if we shut down because the costs are too heavy," said Camou.
They are worried the tradition, which has become a Bakersfield staple, may soon dwindle away completely.
"The Bakersfield community but especially our Basque community is going to lose that and you can't replace it. Once it's gone, it's gone," said Camou.
Basque restaurant owners say despite the changed layout of the Basque dining experience people are still coming in to support them.