CALIFORNIA — In 2020, we were forced to witness a spate of "we're closed" signs appear across multiple businesses in our communities. In California, the pandemic particularly shook the ground beneath the state's once robust hospitality industry.
At several points, restaurants joined the centerpiece of debate around what was safe to reopen and what should remain closed during the seemingly endless coronavirus pandemic. As a result, as cases ebbed and then surged again, restaurants fell victim to back-and-forth health restrictions that came down from the state.
And while restaurants were allowed to reopen to varying degrees during the summer within the 58 counties in the state, many were subject to tight capacity limits and/or could only serve guests outside.
As some restaurant owners coped with how to run an establishment with considerably less seating, they also had to figure out how to keep supporting their employees. Although the CARES Act provided tax breaks and aid for small businesses in spring, it wasn't enough to offset the costs of losing customers and the ability to open fully.
When the most recent Regional Stay-At-Home order came down from Gov. Gavin Newsom amid a staggering winter surge in cases statewide, it drove a final nail in the proverbial coffin for many restaurants and eateries.
Many outdoor parklets that had just been constructed as health orders lifted over the summer have sat vacant since the order came down in early December as regions fell below the intensive care unit capacity threshold of 15 percent. The order currently affects four of five designated regions in California, with only the Northern California region not under the mandate. The order can only be lifted when ICU capacity meets or surpasses 15 percent.
As ICU capacity has remained below 15 percent in the four regions under the order, it remains to be seen just how many restaurants will survive the extended dine-in closure, and whether a relief package will be enough to save them.
Here are just some of the eateries that have closed in the Golden State permanently:
Specialty's Cafe & Bakery, a well-liked breakfast and lunch chain headquartered in Pleasanton, is permanently closing all of its more than 50 locations in three states due to financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus crisis, the restaurant announced Friday.
"Current market conditions attributed to COVID-19 and shelter-in-place policies have decimated company revenues," a statement on the restaurant's website reads. "Our last day of operations will be Tuesday, May 19th, 2020."
The chain, founded in the Bay Area in 1987, was in business for 33 years, and moved its headquarters to Pleasanton in 2014, Pleasanton Weekly reported. Popular items included handmade sandwiches and big cookies baked from scratch, as well as catered lunches delivered to offices around the Bay Area.
Souplantation, the buffet-style restaurant chain founded and headquartered in San Diego, is permanently closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The company has 97 restaurants, including 44 in California. The company closure means 4,400 employees will lose their jobs, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurants, the parent company of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, had closed the eateries in mid-March due to the spread of COVID- 19. At the time, the shutdowns were announced as temporary closures.
Santa Monica steakhouse Pacific Dining Car is closing its Westside location and will continue working to reopen its Los Angeles restaurant.
The restaurant group announced in June that they were closing in Santa Monica following impacts from the pandemic and invited the public to join an online auction through June 22.
"Our Santa Monica location is a casualty of the coronavirus crisis, and the contents of the restaurant are available via our ONLINE AUCTION. Additional memorabilia is available in our shop," Pacific Dining Car announced on Instagram.
The Bistro Garden at Coldwater, a longtime establishment known for its fine dining, chocolate soufflés and a "garden" atmosphere that often served as a Hollywood backdrop, is closing after 30 years in Studio City, owners announced in August.
"Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertain future of the restaurant industry, it is with great sorrow and emotional upheaval that after 30 years, The Bistro Garden at Coldwater will be closing," the Niklas and Pappas families said in a joint statement.
"Thank you to the many customers who have supported us over the years," they said on Facebook. "We will miss you dearly and the wonderful times we shared during weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, showers, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or just a simple meal 'in the garden.' It has been an honor and a privilege to serve you."
A popular South Bay/Peninsula restaurant chain announced in July that its Cupertino location is the latest to join that list.
Hobee's Cupertino has operated at the Oaks Center since 1986.
"With COVID-19 already a formidable challenge, the restaurant faced an unknown future in the face of the shopping center's latest redevelopment plans which have received support from the city council," the statement said.
"Since it seemed likely that the restaurant would not make a full recovery from the pandemic before having to shut down again for demolition, Michael opted to permanently close."
Worth Ranch BBQ in San Ramon and The Little Pear in Danville have closed, Chef Rodney Worth said.
The Tri-Valley restaurateur said Friday morning that the coronavirus pandemic, "California's harsh business climate" and the fallout from weekend Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power shutoffs contributed to his decision to close.
Worth Ranch BBQ opened four years ago at 2410 San Ramon Valley Blvd. The power shutoffs were devastating to the restaurant, Worth said. He didn't want to pass on the rising costs of beef and pork to customers.
The Little Pear opened a decade ago at 3407 Blackhawk Plaza Circle. Worth said vacancies in Blackhawk Plaza also played a role in his decision to close down.
"We have met so many great people and made lots of friends," he said.
Longtime Santa Monica restaurant Enterprise Fish Co. closed its doors and left its original location after more than 41 years in the city.
The restaurant is one of several businesses forced out of Santa Monica and Los Angeles County in the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The group will vacate 174 Kinney Street, near Neilson Way and also announced that it closed its Santa Barbara location, The Santa Monica Mirror reports.
After nine years in business, Vault 164, the popular New American restaurant in downtown San Mateo, became a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic in July, as management announced the eatery was closing its doors.
"Since the start of the pandemic, I have seen this day coming," managing partner Brad Goldberg wrote on the restaurant's Facebook page Saturday morning. "Fortunately for us, we were able to find a buyer that allowed us to leave on our terms."
Goldberg thanked the restaurant's employees, his fellow managers and others who have supported it over the years.
Steak 'n Shake in Santa Monica closed its Third Street Promenade location and leasing signs appeared at the location in late summer. It's one of several restaurants and businesses closing in Santa Monica in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the website still lists the restaurant as temporarily closed, the location at 1455 3rd Street Promenade is closed, with branding and food items all removed from the area this month.
The company is known for burgers, fries and milkshakes and opened its first LA location at Santa Monica's 3rd Street in 2014.
Chef Nick Difu announced the closure in a Facebook post in May.
"Over the last two months, I have spent a lot of time with my daughter and wife (the most I have ever spent with them since owning the restaurants) and during this time I have also been thinking about my future and what the restaurant business will look like post-COVID-19," Difu said.
"After a lot of careful consideration, and partly because of the uncertainty of the restaurant world, I have sadly decided to walk away from the restaurant. This was never my intention but because we are in unprecedented times, I have been forced to make this difficult decision to close. I hope everybody understands.
"What will become of Nick's is still uncertain at this point. Once we have more clarity, we will let you know."
Patch editors Gideon Rubin, Courtney Teague, Kristina Houck, Nicole Charky and Susan Schena contributed to this article.
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