A group of business owners from the new Aptos Village complex gathered for a meeting in early March. They discussed possible events and projects they wanted to do together, aiming to bring the community into the blooming hub.
But days later those plans fell through as shelter-in-place restrictions were adopted countywide to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
One of those business owners was Penny Ice Creamery founder Zachary Davis, who had planned to open the new Aptos location of his Santa Cruz-based creamery in late March.
“Our contractor was literally on the final steps when shelter-in-place started,” Davis said. “Things slowed way down, and even once we were allowed to continue, things took a lot longer.”
Finally, on June 29, Penny Ice Creamery opened its doors—figuratively, as it is currently offering window service only. The creamery, established in 2010 by Davis and Kendra Baker, has two other locations in downtown Santa Cruz and Capitola. It has earned a loyal following with its unique ice cream flavors, made entirely in-house and with fresh, local ingredients.
Davis said that bringing the business to Aptos was a long time coming. They had put in a “letter of interest” to developers as far back as 2013.
“We’ve been following the [Aptos Village] project for a long time,” Davis said. “We were committed to coming to Aptos well in advance of the pandemic. As a small business, it has been challenging… but we didn’t want to give up.”
A couple of blocks over, Betty Burgers is also settling into the new complex. The restaurant opened the week that shelter-in-place began. Owner Laurie Negro, who owns all Betty Burgers locations in downtown Santa Cruz, Seabright and Capitola, said that they immediately went into take-out mode.
“We couldn’t let the business just sit there,” she said. “We had an opportunity to open, so we did. We were even able to transfer some employees from our other locations to Aptos. It worked out.”
The restaurant, which offers a number of signature burgers, salads, fries and more, celebrated officially on July 9 with a ribbon cutting, attended by Aptos Chamber of Commerce board members and local residents.
Negro and Davis have been navigating ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions as well as the normal growing pains of starting a business in a brand new complex. They have faced everything from point of sale system glitches to elevator repair, as well as enforcing mask policies.
“It’s been challenging,” Negro said. “There are so many little things you figure out as you open. We weren’t perfect at first. But we’ve gotten a lot better. We really appreciate the support and patience of the community.”
Davis said he was grateful to other Aptos Village business owners for their support.
“I am so appreciative of these other businesses that are in the new development … Mentone, Cat and Cloud, Sock Shop Santa Cruz, the wineries, New Leaf,” he said. “We’ve all come together.”
On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a closure to all indoor services in restaurants, wineries and other types of businesses. Thankfully, both Betty Burgers and Penny Ice Creamery are built for the pullback.
“It won’t affect us much,” Negro said. “We’ve had strong sales through online and phone ordering, and we have a large patio for outdoor dining.”
Added Davis: “We were prepared for it. Given the current environment, it’s a good balance for us.”