Indoor dining, potential stimulus money to aid Bay Area restaurant revival

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- It was the first Saturday night of indoor dining for restaurants in Santa Clara County since November on Saturday.

At Farmer's Union in San Pedro Square, Assistant General Manager Jeffrey Worrell said it was a major turnaround from just a few weeks ago.

"Where we stand now, I think we are doing great," said Worrell.

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Still, by 6 p.m. many of the socially distanced tables and booths remained empty as customers opted for the large outdoor area that occupied the closed-off block of San Pedro Street.

Worrell said he expects more people will begin dining inside as COVID-19 numbers continue to drop and vaccinations continue.

"They will. Once they feel more comfortable as more people get vaccinated, business will thrive," said Worrell.

Vanessa Rivera came specifically to dine inside, saying she felt safe.

"It feels comforting," she said.

VIDEO: Eager diners hit San Jose outdoor restaurants as CA lifts lockdown
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Within hours of Governor Newsom lifting California's lockdown, eager diners were already flocking to restaurants in San Jose.

Her boyfriend, Jesse Suarez, had a more practical reason.

"I just wanted to come inside. It's colder outside," he commented.

But even as restaurants begin to show signs of recovery as restrictions loosen, the industry at large has faced devastating losses.

Restaurateur Umberto Bala said he was forced to sell his brewery in Campbell last year after they closed in March, and struggled to pay rent with minimal income.

"It hurt my heart and also hurt my pocket," said Bala. "Losing your baby is tough."

He also owns Vin Santo restaurant in Willow Glen, which has managed to stay afloat through mix of PPP money and a pivot to takeout, though even that has barely been enough to pay the bills.

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Nevertheless, he remains optimistic and passionate about his business.

"It's my life, what I love to do. I've never done it for the money," said Bala.

Restaurants could soon see some financial relief in the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that passed through the Senate on Saturday.

It includes $28.6 billion designated specifically for small restaurants and bars.

The amended bill still needs to pass back through the House of Representatives before heading to the President's desk for a signature.

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