Restaurants have suffered as much as any industry in the U.S.
In March, Datassential reported 10.2 percent of the nation’s food establishments had closed permanently since the beginning of the pandemic. Of the 778,807 concepts in operation since the onset of COVID-19, 79,438 had closed for good, according to the company’s proprietary Firefly database.
Among those thousands of restaurants were a number of independent concepts that couldn’t weather consumer hesitancy and long-term governmental restrictions. Even a year and a half later, the National Restaurant Association, Independent Restaurant Coalition, and others have pleaded to Congress to give more aid to restaurants after the Paycheck Protection Program and short-winded $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund didn’t suffice.
Here are 13 concepts—many decades-old—that were forced to shut down permanently due to the brutal effects of COVID.
The 37-year-old Michelin-starred restaurant, which made the decision to shut down permanently in July, said it was looking forward to welcoming back customers, but negotiations to renew a soon-to-be expired lease were unsuccessful, according to the website. Spiaggia’s sister restaurant Café Spiaggia closed, as well. Both locations had been temporarily shuttered since last year.
Spiaggia was founded in 1984 by 12-time James Beard nominee Tony Mantuano and Levy Restaurants. The concept was known for cultivating culinary talent, such as Top Chef winner Joe Flamm, who left as executive chef in September 2019 to open Croatian-American restaurant Rose Mary, and Sarah Gruenberg, another former executive chef who was named Best Chef Great Lakes in 2017 by the James Beard Foundation.
Cliff House, San Francisco
Founded nearly 160 years ago on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Cliff House closed permanently on December 31.
Dan and Mary Hountalas, operators since 1973, attributed the shut down to the pandemic and issues with its landlord, the National Park Service (NPS), which has owned the property since 1977. The closure resulted in the loss of 180 jobs. COVID prevented the restaurant from operating in-person since March 17, 2020. Cliff House attempted takeout in early June, but the losses became too great after 10 weeks.
According to the Cliff House website, the restaurant was constructed in 1863 by Sen. Jon Buckley and C.C. Butler. The restaurant was destroyed by a chimney fire in 1894, but Adolph Sutro, a millionaire philanthropist who had bought it 11 years earlier, spent $75,000 to create a second, improved version. Thirteen years later, yet another fire tore down the Cliff House, and another $75,000 was spent to erect a third structure. The Cliff House entered its fourth phase once the Hountalas’s and NPS completed their own restoration and renovation.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, New Orleans
The concept revealed in July 2020 that it was shuttering for good after repeated closures.
K-Paul’s was founded by married couple chef Paul Prudhomme and Kay Hinrichs Prudhomme in 1979. Brenda Prudhomme, Paul Prudhomme’s niece, and Paul Miller, her husband and executive chef, took over the restaurant in October 2015 after Paul Prudhomme’s death. The restaurant started with a capacity of 62, but soon became a hotspot in the French Quarter known for its long lines and community dining. The building, constructed in 1864, was renovated in 1996, and capacity grew to more than 200 seats.
“We have been blessed and honored to serve our customers who have become family through shared stories, breaking bread with jalapeño cheddar yeast rolls and raised martini glasses,” Brenda Prudhomme said at the time. “We will also treasure the memories of all of our amazing staff members over the years, knowing that they will carry a piece of K-Paul’s with them for the rest of their careers.”
Del Posto, New York City
The well-known Italian brand officially closed this spring after being purchased by an ownership group comprising Melissa Rodriguez, executive chef, Jeff Katz, general manager, and James Kent, partner and executive chef at The Restaurants at 70 Pine in New York City.
The group plans to transform the former Manhattan space into three different entities: a cocktail bar, a wood-burning pizza brand, and an Italian concept similar to Del Posto.
Del Posto had been closed since March 2020, the New York Times reported. Prior to COVID, the Italian concept employed more than 200 people. It was founded by Lidia Bastianich, Joe Bastinanich, and chef Mario Batali in 2005. In 2010, the Italian restaurant received a four-star review from the New York Times, the first to do so since 1974. The concept held a Relais & Chateux distinction, a 5 Diamond Award from AAA, and the Grand Award from the Wine Spectator, according to its website.
Highland Park Cafeteria, Dallas
The 95-year-old concept shut down permanently in May 2020, only two months after COVID first struck the U.S. Prior to that, the store had been temporarily closed since March 16, 2020.
In late March, the restaurant didn’t adopt an off-premises only model, and decided instead to create a makeshift drive-thru and distribute 1,000 meals, according to the Dallas Morning News. Eater Dallas reported that Highland Park Cafeteria once had eight locations, but due to the oil bust in the 1980s, it retracted to one unit. The lone location closed in 2006, but was reopened in 2007 by a local real estate agent.
“We would love to have a farewell event to honor you and our faithful employees, but due to the current restrictions, we won’t be able to,” the restaurant posted on Facebook. “HPC is not tables and chairs and stoves, it is generations of cooks faithfully preparing special recipes and lovingly serving generations of diners.”
Bäco Mercat, Los Angeles
The Mediterranean and Spanish-inspired concept was opened by chef Josef Centeno in 2011 in Downtown Los Angeles. It offered multiple flatbread sandwiches, seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes, as well as wine, beer, and spirts.
After attempting takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining, the restaurant closed temporarily in May 2020 after protests over the death of George Floyd, according to the L.A. Times. It shuttered permanently August 2020, just a couple of months shy of its nine-year anniversary.
“Bäco, you were born one night out of hunger and a little too much booze and who knew it would spark the light that would guide me through the years ahead,” Centeno posted on Instagram. “When I finally found you a home, I spent countless hours building parts of you and preparing you for the world. You helped me develop into so much more than a cook. You introduced me to so many ideas, spices and flavors that would shape the way I see the world.
“You forced me to do something every day that scared me (running a business does that pretty easily),” the statement continued. “It made me a better chef, leader and owner. You taught me to run an extremely successful business that would provide things for me and my team that we never could have imagined possible.”
Fuji Ya, Minneapolis
Fuji Ya pioneered Japanese cuisine in Minnesota, claiming to be the first such concept in the state when it first opened in 1959.
According to Eater Twin Cities, the restaurant was opened by Reiko Weston in what used to be a garage. The concept then moved to a flour mill that overlooked the Mississippi River. After Weston passed away in 1988, the restaurant shut down a couple of years later. Fuji Ya was brought back to life in 1997 by the founder’s daughter, Carol Weston Hanson.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported the restaurant remained open for takeout when COVID first struck, but later announced a temporary closure on May 7. Several weeks later, Fuji Ya wrote on its website, “Thank you for your support! Unfortunately we are closing our doors.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the restaurant suffered smashed windows and graffiti during protests, Eater reported.
20th Street Cafe, Denver
20th Street Cafe, a staple in the Denver area for 74 years, permanently closed its doors in April 2020 just a few weeks after Mayor Michael Hancock shut down dine-in at restaurants and bars due to the pandemic.
Rod and Karen Okuno owned the establishment. According to the store’s Facebook page, 20th Street Cafe was opened in 1946 by Rod’s granparents Harry and Tsugi Okuno. They were followed by Rod’s parents Tedd and Ann Okuno, and then Rod and Karen took over in 2000. The couple planned to retire within the next few years, but with the downturn of the economy, they decided “trying to reopen after the pandemic and trying to make a realistic go of it would be impossible.”
“Somehow 20th Street Cafe managed to stay open through a lot of good times and not-so-good times,” the restaurant posted on Facebook. “Some up turns and crazy downturns in the economy but this final one proved to be insurmountable for our little corner of the world. As the song goes ‘So long it’s been good to know you.'”
Schreiner’s Restaurant, Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin
Schreiner’s Restaurant, known for its scratch-prepared food and bakery, first opened in 1938, but shut down for good in late May 2020. Prior to closing, the concept said it served more than 500,000 guests per year.
The restaurant was owned by Paul Cunningham, who started as a busboy in 1969, and his wife Joan. The couple’s daughter and son-in-law, Marcia and Nathan Haupt, helped run the concept. All together, the four restaurateurs had more than 100 years of combined experience at Schreiner’s, according to the restaurant. At the time of closing, 24 employees had worked at Schreiner’s for more than 20 years and five had worked there for more than 40 years.
In July, the brand scheduled a liquidation sale to sell off commercial kitchen items, groceries, office supplies, China/silverware, glassware, gift items, memorabilia, and other items.
Cafe Texan, Huntsville, Texas
In August, Cafe Texan owner John Strickland told the Huntsville Item that when he closed his restaurant temporarily, he never intended for it to become permanent. He shut down operations for months to protect his customer base, which was mostly senior citizens.
But as the industry quickly learned, COVID is swift and unforgiving in nature. When the restaurant first closed, Strickland did everything he could to save money from month to month, including the removal of a dumpster that cost $400 per month. However, to remove the dumpster, he had to turn off the water, and when he did that, the store was considered closed. To reopen the kitchen and operations, Strickland would’ve had to spend $80,000. The owner already spent nearly $40,000 to assist his employees. With expenses rising beyond his budget, Cafe Texan was forced to say goodbye.
“It’s really sad because it’s been a part of the community for 83 years,” Strickland told the Huntsville Item. “When I bought it in 1996, our greatest generation of WWII vets were in their 70’s, so I saw most of Huntsville’s greatest generation pass away. They had been in and out of the cafe all of their lives, because the cafe had been there all of their lives. It has been a pleasure knowing folks and most of them were vital parts of the community.”
Aquagrill, New York City
Aquagrill, known for its oysters and variety of seafood items, was a top destination in the SoHo neighborhood for 24 years before shutting down for good in June 2020.
The restaurant was opened by couple Jennifer and Jeremy Marshall in 1996, with Jeremy serving as the chef. According to Eater New York, Aquagrill was frequently on Zagat’s 50 best restaurants in NYC and received an award from Wine Spectator for its wine list.
“We took immense pride in Jeremy’s menu, in offering the best oysters in town, in our warm atmosphere and professional service, yet what we took most pleasure in was that many of you called us family and considered Aquagrill your home. You came to dine, to unwind, to celebrate and to lament, to meet, cheat and while away your time, the Marshall’s wrote in a Facebook post. “Aquagrill never would have become what it was without YOU. We’re honored that so many of you have grown with us and made us a part of your lives, and will miss you deeply.”
The Source, Washington, D.C.
The Source was Wolfgang Puck’s first restaurant in the nation’s capital, lasting 13 years.
A source told Eater Washington, D.C. that the closure in May 2020 was due to a change in landlords and the overwhelming affects of the COVID pandemic. Employees had been furloughed since March when Washington, D.C. first implemented its on-premises dining ban.
The restaurant was recognized for its Asian cuisine, including Hampshire Salt & Pepper Pork Chop, Pei Pa Duckling over Drunken Noodles, Colorado Lamb Stir Fry, and Pan Roasted Whole Bronzino. The Source was located under the Newseum, a 250,000-square-foot interactive museum showcasing the history of news and the role of free press during major events. The museum closed toward the end of 2019 and sold the property to Johns Hopkins University.
“With the closure of Newseum and extended construction expected during the Johns Hopkins transition, we do not foresee a successful return to business in the COVID-19 environment,” the restaurant said in a statement to Eater. “We are grateful to our loyal guests and to the DC community for its support.”
Blackbird served as one of Chicago’s most notable fine-dining establishments for more than 22 years before shutting down in June 2020. The restaurant opened on December 1, 1997 by partners Donnie Madia, Paul Kahan, Eduard Seitan, and the late Ricky Diarmit.
At the time of closing Kahan told the Chicago Tribune that 25 percent capacity, combined with the removal of private dining, was too much to overcome. The restaurant, which served contemporary American cuisine, earned four stars from the Tribune and held a Michelin star for eight years. Kahan received the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding chef in 2013 and Madia won Oustanding Restaurateur in 2015.
“At this point, you have to be nimble, because nobody knows what will happen in September, or even tomorrow,” Kahan told the Tribune. “But this is the healthiest decision for the company moving forward. The good news, moving forward, all our other properties have done great pivots. We’re doing everything in our power to keep the staff safe, implementing new things every day.”