Coronavirus Impact: Half of San Francisco restaurants expected to close as industry bracing for big changes during pandemic

Stephanie Sierra Image
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Coronavirus Impact: Half of SF restaurants expected to close, industry bracing for big changes
Neighborhood favorites like Three Twins Ice Cream have already forced to close, along with nearly 20 other restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, and breweries in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Dining out in the Bay Area will likely never be the same.

Fifty percent of San Francisco's restaurants aren't expected to re-open, according to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

"Do you think you'll make it?"

"No. I don't think so," said Wen Geng, owner of Chinese Cuisine, a popular Hawaiian BBQ lunch spot in the financial district. "It's scary, really scary."

On a typical day, Geng serves 200 people for lunch.

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Now, he's lucky if he has 10 customers for takeout.

"I don't know what to do," he said staring at his empty kitchen.

Geng's restaurant is one out of 3,900 in San Francisco.

Roughly 17 percent of the 3,900 restaurateurs are relying on takeout to survive amid COVID-19.

The remaining roughly 83 percent are either temporarily closed or boarded up for good.

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"It's decimated right now, like a bulldozer," said Laurie Thomas, GGRA's executive director.

Thomas has temporarily closed two of her own restaurants, Terzo and Rose's Café.

"How many restaurants in San Francisco do you think will be forced to close?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"We're worried it's going to be around 50 percent," she said.

According to data from the California Department of Public Health, 40 percent of health permits issued for San Francisco restaurants closed last year.

That's more than double what the city typically reports annually.

"The industry was sick, it wasn't financially strong," Thomas said, pointing out rising costs of rent and added city taxes.

"It's possible we may see another surge of COVID-19. How do you expect that to impact how restaurants re-open?" Sierra asked.

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"If we have to open at a reduced capacity which we're all pretty sure we're going to do," said Thomas. "How do you run a business and not just bleed cash?"

That's exactly what happened to 40-year veteran restaurant owner, Dennis Berkowitz.

"We have not been through this before!" he said.

Dennis is famous for his family-run restaurant chain "Max's" and a USDA approved commissary that supplies 75 percent of to-go food to SFO, Oakland, and San Jose airports.

But Dennis and his son Bill Berkowitz, who operates this business, couldn't make it. They had to furlough close to 150 employees.

"I said Bill where are we? And he says we're nowhere we're all done. I shipped out $3,000 when we normally ship out $40,000 worth of merchandise," he said.

Dennis said Max's to-go operations was out of business at all three airports in a week.

A tough reality facing restaurant owners across the Bay Area.

"What kind of resources will these restaurants need in order to survive?" Sierra asked Laurie Thomas.

"We need help paying for all the personal protective equipment or PPE, sourcing it and subsidizing it," she said.

But, the unfortunate reality is many restaurants won't even make it long enough to worry about that.

Neighborhood favorites like Three Twins Ice Cream have already forced to close, along with nearly 20 other restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, and breweries.

Many of the business owners posted on social media to announce the closures, citing everything from high rents to lack of strong to-go businesses.

A complete list compiled by the San Francisco Chronicle as of (04/24):

  • Benchmark, Oakland
  • Bica Coffeehouse, Oakland
  • Bistro Aix, SF Marina
  • Black Spring Coffee, Oakland
  • Café de Soleil, Lower Haight
  • Camburger, Oakland
  • Clarke's Charcoal Burger, Mountain View
  • Cleophus Quealy Brewery, San Leandro
  • Dan Gordon's, Palo Alto
  • Grocery Café, Oakland
  • Hillside Supper Club
  • La Guerrera's Kitchen
  • Lalime, Berkley
  • Locanda, SF Mission
  • Mestiza. SF SOMA
  • Momo & Curry, Oakland
  • Naked Fish, SF Marina
  • Pause Wine Bar, SF Hayes Valley
  • Viognier Restaurant, San Mateo

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