Writer’s Strike Feast or Famine: Meet the Restaurateurs Prepping for the Worst

Studios won’t be the only ones affected if writers and producers fail to reach a new contract

WGA AMPTP negotiations

If film and television writers opt to go on strike Monday night at midnight, the entertainment industry is likely to be seriously impacted. But a strike won’t just affect Hollywood – local businesses around major studios and networks would feel the burn as well.

That includes Astro Burger, which serves both Greek and American food, and the Italian restaurant Osteria La Buca, each located across the street from Paramount.

“It will affect us because we’re next door to Paramount and we have so many customers from Paramount from all levels,” Cosmos Kapantzos, owner of Astro Burger, told TheWrap.

“For us, lunch time is primarily business from Paramount,” said Stephen Sakulsky, co-owner of Osteria La Buca. “We have a strong studio presence… We’d be able to weather it, but it would affect the actual servers in the dining room because they wouldn’t hit their gratuity goals. We would definitely have to trim the front of the house staff.”

A manager at Burbank’s family-owned restaurant Olive & Thyme, located across the street from Warner Bros. Studios and less than a mile away from the Disney lot, echoed Kapantzos and Sakulsky. The manager, who declined to be named, told TheWrap that a significant percentage of Olive & Thyme’s lunch business comes from Warner Bros. employees — but that lunch is about ten times busier than the dinner shift.

Looking back to the 2007-2008 writers’ strike may provide some indication of how these businesses will fare if another strike occurs. Lasting 100 days, that strike caused a 25 percent drop in primetime scripted programming for that broadcast season, according to a letter sent to shareholders from the WGA, and at least $380 million in losses (some reports even say the losses were up to $2.1 billion). It also forced belt-tightening at Astro Burger, which took steps to avoid letting workers go.

“We opened in 1974 and the 2007 strike did affect us at that time — I just saw lunch and dinner was not as strong as it normally was, especially lunch because of all the business that Paramount brings when it’s in full force,” said Kapantzos.  “We had to adjust our business after the first or second week in order to meet the needs for that time. We had to cut down hours — not hours of operation — and we had to make some adjustments. We tried to do our best to keep everyone on payroll without affecting their personal lives because they work and they expect a certain amount of money. I hate to do that to my employees and we would try to make any adjustments that wouldn’t affect our staff.”

Kapantzos added that he did not have to let employees go in 2007, but had to adjust their menu availability and allow for less orders for specials to keep the quality and quantity up to par.

“The craziest part was when everyone came back to work when the strike ended and we had to readjust and we had to get back to normal,” he added.

 Osteria La Buca was also around for the 07-08 strike, though according to Sakulsky, who owns Osteria La Buca with a business partner, the business has expanded significantly since then. “Lunch has literally grown ten-fold,” he told TheWrap.

But, so Sakulsky says, the restaurant also intends to do what it can to avoid layoffs. “We’re all family, and we’ve had zero turnover so I’d like to have my staff continue getting their money. We take care of our own, and if need be, we would give loans and advances — we’re only as good as our staff and we’d be nothing without them.”

The current contract for film and TV writers expires on May 1. WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) began negotiating a new contract in early March, but those talks were discontinued March 24 when agreement could not be reached, and the WGA’s negotiating committee called for a strike authorization vote. On April 25, members overwhelmingly voted in favor of striking if an agreement cannot be reached, and the WGA returned to the negotiating table the same day.

If producers and writers fail to reach an agreement by midnight Monday, a temporary extension of the old contract may be enacted at 12:01 May 2 in order to allow talks to continue, two individuals with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap last week.

Key issues include stronger economic and workplace protections, changes to how compensation on short-order television shows is calculated, and paid family leave for writers.