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Restaurants shutter temporarily while other double down on delivery, ways to survive coronavirus downturn

Uploaded: Mar 13, 2020
For more updates on restaurant closures, read this story: Restaurants start to shutter, as public health restrictions increase and dining out declines. If you are wondering if a local restaurant is still open or switching to a delivery/takeout model, I recommend checking their social media pages for the latest updates.

Palo Alto's Vina Enoteca is among the first Peninsula restaurants to close their doors temporarily in the face of sharply declining business and rising health fears due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Italian restaurant, located at 700 Welch Road on the edge of the Stanford University campus, will be closed starting Monday, March 16.

"We're bleeding too much. I prefer to close now and rebuild in a couple of weeks," owner Rocco Scordella said in an interview. In an Instagram post announcing the closure on Friday, he described it as "the toughest decision we made since we opened Vina Enoteca, especially for all our employees."


Vina Enoteca in Palo Alto will be closed starting Monday, March 16. Photo by Ben Hacker/Palo Alto Online.

The Michelin-starred Chez TJ in Mountain View decided on Saturday to close for two weeks after Santa Clara County directed restaurants to adhere to new restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Palo Alto French restaurant Zola announced Saturday that "it is in the best interest of our community to temporarily close Zola in efforts to 'flatten the curve.'" Zola plans to reopen on April 17.

Zen Peninsula in Millbrae also has shuttered temporarily; A sign outside the Chinese restaurant says the business is "in hibernation due to coronavirus epidemic." Millbrae's Hong Kong Flower Lounge, a 20-year-old, massive Chinese banquet-style restaurant, will close this Sunday, March 15, until May 1, a manager confirmed. The Kitchen, a nearby Cantonese restaurant, will shutter on March 16 through May 1 "out of an abundance of caution." Bumble in downtown Los Altos has moved to to-go orders until further notice.

The impact of the coronavirus on local restaurants has escalated sharply this week as public health officials increasingly emphasized social distancing as a means to slow the spread of the coronavirus. On Friday, Santa Clara County announced a ban on all public and private gatherings of more than 100 people and special conditions for gatherings between 35 and 100 people, including providing enough physical space people can stay more than arm's length apart from each other and to ask people to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

Owners and chefs have moved from urging people to still eat out to changing their service models, cutting hours and doubling down on delivery. They've taken to social media and email newsletters to promote specials, including waiving delivery fees, and communicate the precautions they're taking to keep their restaurants clean and safe, from sanitizing surfaces every 30 minutes to spacing tables farther apart to allow for social distancing.
Some local owners started encouraging people to purchase gift certificates to use at a later date when they feel more comfortable dining out. (Vickie Breslin of The Post in Los Altos announced she will give a portion of gift certificate proceeds to support her staff, writing on Instagram: "this time is scary for everyone but as the owner I am beyond concerned for the employees of The Post.")

Camper in downtown Menlo Park planned to pare down its menu to a limited number of offerings for lunch and dinner and offer "freezer stocking" or family-style meals for pick-up or delivery. If the owners at any point feel like the reduced operations are putting their staff at risk or causing undue stress, Camper will close and only offer "light" catering and delivery, chef and co-owner Greg Kuzia-Carmel said Friday.

"To be perfectly honest with you: We're terrified," he said on Friday. "We've lost essentially 100% of our private dining and the main restaurant is down over 50% a day. It's definitely earth shattering."


Camper in Menlo Park is one of many local restaurants changing its service model in response to a "devastating" blow to business from the coronavirus. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Kuzia-Carmel said he's focused on keeping Camper's staff employed as long as possible.

"We're obviously losing money but we're trying to figure out how to minimize the impact on the people who we're really responsible for," he said.

By Monday morning, March 16, Camper had closed temporarily.

Kevin Lu, a partner with Noodles & Things in San Mateo and Millbrae and Porridge & Things in Millbrae, said all three restaurants are shifting their focus to delivery. The restaurants are launching a meal subscription service for people who live within a 3-mile radius of the restaurants. Staff will temporarily become delivery people, dropping meal sets at homes at set times during the day.

"We're changing our format," Lu said. "Our partners are worried because literally, if this continues, we would not survive for more than three months."

Lu and Scordella said they believe more restaurants, which already operate on razor-thin margins, will close in the coming days and weeks.

Scordella, for his part, hopes to reopen in two weeks — and give his 68 employees their jobs back — but is watching closely the guidance of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. He also owns Tootsie's at the Stanford Barn, which he's keeping open for now to provide coffee and snacks to the staff of the nearby Stanford Hospital.


Hong Kong Flower Lounge is one of several Chinese restaurants in Millbrae shutting down temporarily in response to the coronavirus. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

Angie Ng opened Zen Peninsula in Millbrae in 2004. The restaurant has capacity for up to 300 people; her primary business came from hosting weddings and large events, which have been canceled through May, she said. She urged other owners to take what she said was a hard but necessary step to close temporarily — which she's describing as "hibernation" rather than a shutdown. The financial cost of closing, for her, is more manageable than struggling to pay her bills and her 32-member staff with business down 90%.

"If people have not assessed the possibility of hibernation, they should," she said. "This is the only way I can survive."

Top of mind for Scordella and restaurateurs across the region is how the local, state and federal governments will respond to support restaurants that suffer major losses due to the coronavirus, which remains to be seen.

"The government has to do something for small businesses so we're able to rebuild and give jobs to people," he said.

Restaurant owners, chefs and readers: If you know of any other Peninsula restaurant closures or want to share your experiences related to the coronavirus impacts on the local food industry, please email me at [email protected]
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

 +   21 people like this
Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 6:58 pm

Part of the problem is that the county health department has been very vague about health requirements for restaurants during this crisis. Potential diners don't know what conditions to expect when they arrive at a restaurant (table spacing, sanitation or tables and utensils, etc). Minimum standards need to be much higher now than in the past, but if these standards are not standardized and enforced by the government, many customers will rather be safe than sorry and just cook their own food.


 +   21 people like this
Posted by Downtown business owner, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 8:33 pm

The Santa Clara Health Department has given ZERO guidance on how to adjust or manage the situation in restaurants.


 +   14 people like this
Posted by Would be diner, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 14, 2020 at 12:27 pm

To chime in with the above, as a diner, I want to go to restaurants but without assurances such as the above businesses are requesting, it's hard to do anything else but stay home. Even delivery is a concern -- I'm actually more concerned about the conditions and contact of my food in unhealthy ways from delivery than I am from being served right from the kitchen.

But I'll wager most diners have some experience with food-borne disease from restaurants -- the two most serious in my experience came not from food poisoning but from poor hygiene practices (norovirus, etc) So even if you have only had good experiences with certain businesses, it's hard to know who to absolutely trust.

If only there were fast, reliable test kits and restaurants could regularly supply the results of their staff to the county, so that diners could be sure their meals were not a risk. And so that travelers could be sure they were getting on planes without risk. Or even that large events could proceed with everyone checked before going.

I really hope that all the restauranteurs will realize that competence actually does count in governance in the future. It didn't have to be this way.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by charles reilly , a resident of another community,
on Mar 14, 2020 at 2:14 pm

In the United States, the constant demand that the Government step in and fix everything is creating a giant backlash. How can the Health Department order restaurants to reduce the Coronavirus? How far apart should the tables be? Reduce the number of customers at one time? How would those rules apply? If you're afraid to eat out, then please stay home ....... Take some responsibility !


 +   11 people like this
Posted by C, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Mar 14, 2020 at 5:59 pm

> The Santa Clara Health Department has given ZERO guidance on how to adjust or manage the situation in restaurants.

The worst part is that take-out food is basically safe. The hazard in the restaurants are respiratory transmission and surface contact. One article I read said that sponges and washcloths have the most risk germs. With all the media and government emphasis on "fake news" some real information would have helped out local businesses. As for actual dining out, it's safer in the sense that, since fewer people are dining out, it's less likely you'll encounter someone who has a virus or other germ.

"Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, explained that because the mode of infection is primarily respiratory, the chance of getting COVID-19 from food is extremely low. “In fact, we don't see evidence of any respiratory viruses being transmitted through food in the past," he said."

Web Link


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Mar 14, 2020 at 9:24 pm

What a shame they have to close, but if I was a restaurant owner and business was down, I'd close too. I've eaten out a couple of times lately, and the restaurants are a lot less crowded. There was more than six feet between diners.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Kelly, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 4:21 pm

With local restaurants closing, and so many people now working and eating all meals at home, no wonder there is chaos at grocery stores. At this point, I think it would be much safer (and of course nicer!) to keep restaurants open wherever possible, rather than force EVERYONE into that awful line at Trader Joe's.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 16, 2020 at 9:37 am

Question: what happens to the employees when these restaurants shut down? Are they being paid sick-leave to help them pay their bills? Or are they just kicked out on the street? Can they collect unemployment insurance from the state?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by West Menlo, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 26, 2020 at 4:27 pm

Jeffrey's burgers on El Camino in Menlo Park has been closed for around 2 years, yet still shows up on your map (offering delivery). You may want to update...


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