When I speak over the phone with Tyler Wells, restaurateur and owner of All Time in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, he’s painting a fence. During what would normally be the lunch rush with every table occupied on the sun-dappled patio off Hillhurst Avenue, employees now stand apart from one another, masked, gloved, and processing orders for grocery and wine emergency kits, fresh produce boxes, and cook-at-home trays of baked pasta. Tyler carves out time for cosmetic improvements.
In the wild wake of COVID-19 restrictions and recommendations, restaurants have had to pivot, turning themselves upside down to maintain what business remains. Many closed to reopen on a limited basis, only to shutter their doors once again. In uncertain times, media and news coverage bounces between recommendations and mandates (Don’t wear masks. Actually, wear them!), and businesses are caught in the crosshairs. Tyler chooses to steer clear entirely. “I quit the news,” he says. With strict operational rules in place, a streamlined crew, and distancing and mask requirements for their takeaway guests, Tyler maintains that safety is top priority.
All Time is open on the tailwind of its intrepid leaders, Wells and his wife, Ashley. As hospitality devotees and local culinary darlings, the Wells quickly transformed the restaurant space and their nearby take-out spot Part Time into a community beacon. On top of a limited selection of its regular menu, All Time now offers produce boxes, a marketplace of à-la-carte house-made and specialty ingredients and items, and curated “emergency kits” filled with pantry staples like hot sauce, olive oil and toilet paper.
In addition to creatively updating the menu, there’s a sense of urgency to give back. All Time has donated hundreds of produce boxes to newly out-of-work culinary industry professionals and cooked and delivered meals for healthcare workers. This honor-system, word-of-mouth program attracted support from celebrities like Kristen Bell and Melissa McCarthy who purchased boxes and meals for donation.
Tyler details the heartbreak of reading email requests for help, and seeing himself in the faces of those walking up for donations. “The humility that people have to show,” he sighs. “I’ve cried for a few days thinking about that.” Tyler won’t refuse an act of service. “If anyone’s in need and we have any means at all, I would go into debt [helping them].” Given the current climate, he views the profitability of the restaurant as secondary to public health.
Through the ups and downs, the relationship between the Wells remains strong. “This is us at our best,” Tyler notes. “We’re both very tenacious. We are so good when we’re united against something or united for something.” Having collaborated on numerous projects throughout the years, including a new restaurant in the works (progress on which, for the time being, is halted), they’re no strangers to thinking quickly and creatively. Certainly their enthusiastic expletives and dry humor—an attitude that has always carried into All Time’s menu verbiage and contemporary branding— also help them navigate each fresh chapter of this dystopian story. “This is harder than anything we’ve ever done. [But] no is not an option,” says Tyler. “We will figure out a way to do this, and we will figure out a way to do it better and faster and cooler and more efficiently.”
To give a glimpse at this unprecedented time, we’re offering a peek into a restaurant’s day during the pandemic age.
“I’ve been sleeping a little later than ever before,” Tyler writes over email. First comes coffee, then the washing of dishes from dinner the previous night. After settling any work emergencies, he spends the next hour with a good book.
Head to All Time
“I get to work about opening time and have a chat about the day with the crew and then with the chef,” Tyler writes. This meeting includes a daily cleanliness and safety briefing.
Keeping the lights on comes with routine deliberation. “I wake up every morning with this huge pit in my stomach,” Tyler says. He questions if their actions’ benefits outweigh any harm. Ultimately, for now, the decision is informed by an effort to keep staff employed and aid a community that’s currently sheltering in place. “There is something to helping people stay at home,” he adds. “We are definitely safer than the grocery store.”
9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
The selection changes, but at any given time, purchasers might find self-care options like a brew-at-home wellness drink kit, green smoothie blending boxes, bake-at-home frozen cookie dough for the comfort-deprived, and—for the era of holidays in isolation—smoked brisket for Passover, and DIY Easter egg dying kits.
For those choosing to indulge in solitary bacchanal, there’s wine, and plenty of it. Rogue and riveting, the wines on hand feel appropriate for spicing up otherwise monotonous nights (or days!). If one is so inclined to blow the entire government stimulus check in one place, the “doomsday fuck it pack” provides twelve bottles of top-shelf cellar gems. Perhaps especially fitting of the times is the selection of skin contact wine, because as All Time’s website points out, “we all need some rn.”
Chat with purveyor
Deliveries have slowed to three times per week versus nearly daily when in full restaurant mode. Tyler steps away from our call to talk with a purveyor, and the news isn’t good. She informs Tyler that one of the few main specialty food distributors in Southern California is going out of business—for good. Only a few weeks in, economic pressures loom for all links in the distribution chain.
Tyler hesitates to say they are surviving, given the plight of so many under current circumstances. “We’re very fortunate to be doing alright,” he says. While not making a profit, All Time has managed to pay their limited staff and stay in business while still donating what they can to others in need.
Midday, the restaurant undergoes a complete re-sanitization in preparation for the evening crew to arrive. This break allows for Ashley and Tyler to scrounge for something to eat and post an Instagram cooking tutorial while the kitchen is empty.
In rearranging opening hours, timelines blur, leaving wiggle room for activities like fence-painting or hand-delivering orders to customers’ doorsteps. “I think it goes a long way if the owner of the restaurant shows up at the door,” Tyler says. “People are grateful.” Beyond interacting with happy regulars (from six feet away), Tyler doesn’t know whether to trust the current courier options. With no way to ensure the cleanliness of another entity, he takes matters into his own gloved hands.
It’s my turn to be a recipient of one of these kits, and it really is like finding a lighthouse in a storm. The contents are thoughtfully curated, and tick many pandemic hard-to-find boxes—why, yes, I am actually running out of eggs and toilet paper.
Dinner at home
A silver lining of this new situation, Tyler’s schedule suddenly includes time to prepare dinner, which he does to the nines. He cooks every night for Ashley and All Time’s general manager, who lives with them in a downstairs apartment. The three of them eat, drink and swap stories until fatigue takes hold. “Last night was whole roasted cauliflower, cacio e pepe risotto, and some aged on hoof steaks,” Tyler writes, explaining the cut, which is procured from cows left to pasture longer, and noting it was all paired with a white burgundy. Tyler emphasizes the importance of good wine to soften the edges of this period. “If you’ve got the stash, this is the time to drink it.”
In an All Time newsletter, Ashley describes their cherished, and perhaps fleeting, new dinner habit: “Each night that ritual is hewn into our life and feels like the truest definition of family; it is a beacon of light and the most nourishing reward at the end of the long days.”
There is no point in wishing for our yesterdays back or holding our breath for an un-promised tomorrow. And though it may feel trying and slow and lonely more than it feels otherwise, this chapter will be a blip on the radar and a spit in the ocean as far as time is concerned. Don’t turn away from this moment or try to cheat it; no matter how bored or sad or lost you might feel, let us not bend the rules to our liking just because we don’t have our every pleasure or luxury at our fingertips. Let’s take it as an opportunity to be still with what we have, which is surely enough, is it not? To really be home, with family, with ourselves, with our own inner worlds. I say sink into the discomfort like it’s a hot bath. Welcome it. We are mandated to be home right now, but it’s up to us to make that mean something.
-Ashley Wells, All Time newsletter 4/11/2020