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]