While there might be light at the end of the tunnel, some local businesses are turning off the lights for good as they have been unable to hang on until California reopens and business returns to normal.
As Marin County moves into Phase II of the reopening plan, allowing for some non-essential businesses, retailers and others to go back to work, there is hope among diners that they will soon be able to eat at their favorite table in their favorite restaurant again soon.
See a list of open Marin restaurants on Page A6.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is working to create guidelines that will allow restaurants and other hospitality businesses to open their doors again. “We will only allow for seated dining in restaurants when we can put out guidelines with specifications on how those restaurants are set up, when the data in your region can be supported so that we don’t have spread.”
The time to reopen didn’t come soon enough to save some restaurants.
Regulars at the Station House Cafe in Point Reyes received the bad news on the restaurant’s Facebook page: “So many of you have shared great memories and kind wishes for our team as we work to wind down our operations at Station House Café at the end of this month. Thank you very much for your continued support.”
Reportedly, the cafe was facing a rent increase of nearly 300 percent — from $8,372 to $28,000 per month — with no option to renew after one year. Another proposed option was for a four-year lease for $21,000 per month. Cafe owner Sheryl Cahill announced the two sides could not come to an agreement.
Cahill wrote to her followers, “Thank you again for sharing so many fond memories we all can treasure.”
Cahill had attempted to keep the business afloat despite the COVID 19 restrictions, offering takeout meals. The business had successfully managed to raise $35,000 through a GoFundMe page to help pay for staff insurance premiums. The Cafe had also applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
None of that was enough to keep the doors open beyond May 31, although Cahill said she has not given up hope of reopening at another location.
“The cafe is a piece of the town,” said John Taylor, whose family operates Bivalve Dairy in West Marin. “Everyone goes there for a popover. Its a great place. And now, everyone behind the scenes and in the front house might not have a job. These times are so uncertain. They’re hard.”
A few restaurants, such as Sonoma Taco Shop in Terra Linda, have managed to keep busy, although owners admit they miss the business from workers at Northgate shops and students from nearby schools. They rotate employees in an effort to keep everyone on the payroll. Loyal customers continue to order burritos, tacos, quesadillas, although the salsa bar is temporarily closed. Customers can ask for whatever homemade salsa they want with their food before leaving the cafe to enjoy the meal.
When customers are allowed to dine in again, the atmosphere will likely be different. Newsom recently unveiled a menu of statewide guidelines for restaurants, including: limit the number of patrons at a single table to a household unit or patrons who have asked to be seated together; using disposable menus and making those menus viewable on a personal digital device; notifying patrons that their table is ready using buzzers so that they can wait at a safe distance from the restaurant; a prohibition on shared resources like buffets, salad bars and bread baskets.
To accommodate the rules, restaurant owners are looking at reducing the indoor dining capacity to maintain a six-foot physical distance between individuals. Staff and servers will have to wear masks, so it might be hard to see the smile on the waiter’s face.
Marin County officials hope that in the meantime, the move to join the Great Plates Delivered Program will help keep restaurants in business. The program supports older adults who are sheltering in place and are otherwise unable to pick up meals or have them delivered. The program, which is free to recipients, is open to the first 1,000 applicants who qualify. It’s a temporary measure, which is expected to continue through May 29. (See commentary on Great Plates on A5.)