In January, Francesca Xuereb took the leap many actors in Los Angeles dream of: She quit her waitressing job. After booking a recurring role in HBO Max’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls” and performing another for a forthcoming show on Apple TV+, she was meeting with producers and auditioning five or six times a week.
“I was getting a lot of traction,” she said.
But the concurrent strikes by the Writers Guild of America and Ms. Xuereb’s performers’ union, SAG-AFTRA, put all that on hold. She is now back at her serving job, working four shifts a week at Akasha, a neighborhood farm-to-table restaurant in Culver City.
“It definitely felt like slowing down, and that doesn’t necessarily feel good,” she said. “I don’t mind working in the restaurant. My picture of what being an actress would look like is working as a server until I was able to not go back.”
The strikes have brought the entertainment business to a standstill. The Writer’s Guild strike, which began in May, ended on Sept. 27, but the SAG-AFTRA strike, which started in July, continues. Writers, actors, set decorators and production coordinators have all slid back into the industry that serves as Hollywood’s shadow partner: restaurants.
In Los Angeles it’s a cliché that the ranks of hosts, waiters and bartenders are filled with aspiring comedians, actors and writers. And while the rise of gig work like driving for ride-share companies means that food service is not necessarily the default job for newly arrived dreamers, the strike has supercharged demand for restaurant jobs.
Ms. Xuereb was booking work and auditioning consistently before the strike began.Credit…Wray Sinclair for The New York Times
Erika Rotolo, the director of human resources for the local breakfast-taco chain HomeState, said that while hiring for two new locations this summer, the company was flooded with applications from not only actors and writers, but also art directors, seamstresses and makeup artists. Open calls were packed, and a job posting for a dishwasher, which the restaurant would normally struggle to fill, had to be taken down after drawing 70 applications in 12 hours.
Ms. Rotolo said that while she loves working alongside creative people in restaurants, she had mixed emotions. “We were excited to have so many applicants,” she said. “Another part of me felt badly because people were putting some of their creative and personal dreams on hold due to what’s going on.”
Chelsea Rendon, a SAG-AFTRA strike captain at Warner Brothers, has performed in both film and television since she was 5 years old, and was a series regular on Showtime’s “Vida,” which ended in 2020. She said a combination of shrinking residuals, Covid slowdowns and a lack of opportunities for Latinos left her financially drained even before the strike.
In May, when the Writers Guild walked out, she took her first-ever restaurant job at Roadside Taco in Studio City, where she’d been a regular diner.
“Normally, you have a day job as a server, and once you get a good booking you quit,” she said. “I feel like I’ve had a successful career and had been able to provide for myself, and all of a sudden I can’t.”
Still, she finds the job’s routine a surprising balm. “It felt amazing to have somewhere to go and have a purpose.,” she said. “So much of life as actors is waiting for auditions, waiting for callbacks.”
John Dellaporta had never been able to fully leave his restaurant job, but the strike shifted him from picking up occasional shifts — “spackle,” as he put it — to working regular nights at Miceli’s, the oldest Italian restaurant in Hollywood. Before the strike, he’d booked his first recurring role, on HBO’s “