The coronavirus crisis is decimating independent restaurants.
Sure, big chains are reporting double-digit same-store sales declines around the country. But mom and pops—those corner places that give so many neighborhoods their character and heart—are dying.
Four out of 5 independent restaurants said they were unsure whether they’d be able to stay in business until post-pandemic operations return to normal, according to a recent James Beard Foundation study.
Around the country, local restaurants are making the sad announcements to their customers that their temporary closures are now permanent. And it is all but certain there will be many more to come.
As chef-owner Tom Colicchio told The New Yorker this week: “My concern isn’t actually getting open, though. My concern is, once you’re open, how do you last for a year? So many restaurants will open, and then in six months they’ll close and they won’t open again. Just like there could be a whole second wave of the illness, there’s going to a whole second wave of closures.”
These shutters mark the end of an era for a number of iconic independent operations, some of which have been around for generations. Others were award winners who’d grown to become cornerstones of their neighborhoods and cities.
Here are just some of the many independent restaurants that have recently announced permanent closures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bachelor Farmer, Minneapolis
The Bachelor Farmer, recognized as one of the top restaurants in Minnesota since its opening in 2011, announced late last month that it would shutter permanently after its owner, Eric Dayton, said he saw “no viable path forward” amid the long-lasting and as-yet-unknown impacts of the coronavirus.
“The loss fills me with sadness, but I am also overwhelmed with gratitude,” Dayton wrote on the Minneapolis-based restaurant’s website. “We helped create a vibrant neighborhood and I hope we contributed something of lasting value to the fabric of our community.”
Fat Rice, Chicago
Chicago’s acclaimed Fat Rice restaurant, with James Beard Award-winning chef Abe Conlon, will no longer operate as a dine-in restaurant, even after the coronavirus crisis has passed. Instead, the restaurant, which celebrated the cuisine of Macau, has become Super Fat Rice Mart, selling ready-to-cook meal kits.
“We didn’t want to hold on to something that wasn’t going to be worth it,” Conlon told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s just not economically feasible in the long run. You can’t go from a full-service restaurant that doesn’t do delivery to a restaurant that does do delivery.”
Helser’s on Alberta; Portland, Ore.
Known as a Portland institution, breakfast restaurant Helser’s on Alberta said it will not be able to reopen. The restaurant, which opened in 2004, announced the closure with a “heavy heart” on its Facebook page.
“We are proud to have been able to be a place of warmth, friendship and community and we will continue to cherish all the relationships forged between these walls,” the owners wrote. “It is never easy to say goodbye and it is especially hard when there can be no hugs, fond farewells and final meals shared together. For this lack of closure, we are deeply sorry.”
Lucky Strike, New York City
Keith McNally-owned French-American bistro Lucky Strike, which opened in New York City in 1989, said it was unable to find a way to make the restaurant work financially amid the pandemic.
“The decision was particularly difficult since many of Lucky Strike’s wonderful staff have worked for me for over 20 years, and some of the customers have been coming since the day we opened 31 years ago,” McNally told Eater.
Sushi Taro; Washington, D.C.
Sushi Taro, which would’ve commemorated its 34th anniversary in Washington, D.C., this summer said it will no longer be able to operate as a sit-down restaurant because of COVID-19. The Michelin-starred restaurant has said it’s taking two months off before possibly returning as a takeout-only spot.
The restaurant, which was founded by the parents of the current owners in 1986 and was called the District’s “most famous sushi bar” by Eater, told local media that takeout is the only model that fits going forward.
Emperor Norton’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria; San Jose, Calif.
Emperor Norton’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, which opened in San Jose in 1975, has had three owners in its 45 years. But the community staple said it could not survive the current crisis because it was unable to negotiate better lease terms with its landlord.
“If sales cant keep up, you’re forced to make the tough decision and close your doors, no matter how much I and the community love the place,” owner Todd Haney told The Mercury News.
Pegu Club, New York City
Pioneering craft cocktail bar Pegu Club in New York City is closing because of business lost to the coronavirus shutdown, its owner said.
One of the city’s earliest craft cocktail spots, Pegu Club opened in 2005. It gained acclaim for its speak-easy atmosphere and focus on complex cocktails made with housemade syrups and juices.
“COVID-19 has taken every bit of life we had out of us, and a soft reopening following NYC guidelines would not be enough to sustain us entering into the summer months—historically, Pegu’s summer business has been as slow as molasses,” owner Audrey Saunders wrote in a letter to customers. “Pegu is a large space to fill with lots of overhead, and the PPP loan would not have helped us—on the contrary, it would have added further financial stress.”
Bravo! Restaurant & Cafe; Kalamazoo, Mich.
“We are grateful to have served you and to have come to know you,” the owners wrote on Facebook. “We have been with you for first dates, prom nights, rehearsal dinners, wedding receptions, baby showers, anniversaries, retirement parties and so much more. We have come to know many of you as family.”
Gotham Bar and Grill, New York City
Fine-dining stalwart Gotham Bar and Grill, which was headed by chef Alfred Portale for three decades, said early on in the coronavirus crisis that it would be closing its doors permanently after 36 years.
“We are grateful for all the loyal customers and amazing employees that have graced our dining room over the years,” the Michelin-starred restaurant said on its website. “We wish everyone health and safety in this difficult time.”
Muddy Waters, Minneapolis
Minneapolis bar and eatery Muddy Waters, which started out as a coffee shop in 1987, said it cannot weather the pandemic.
A heartfelt Facebook post from the restaurant’s owners drew hundreds of responses from saddened customers, expressing how important the spot was in their lives.
“We are heartbroken, but resolute in the knowledge that Muddy Waters is not, and cannot, be a place,” the owners wrote. “Muddy Waters is people. And these people? Still here. You’ll find them all over town, still practicing radical empathy and clear-eyed but pragmatic hope for what we face in this moment.”
Coogan’s, New York City
Coogan’s, an iconic Irish pub in New York City that opened in 1985, closed its doors for the last time on St. Patrick’s Day.
“We hoped to open them again, but sadly that is not possible,” the pub’s owners wrote on Facebook. “What was made at Coogan’s were warm relationships, easy smiles and hearty laughter. If you came in a stranger, you immediately became a friend and left an ‘old timer.’ We were able to share a full glass of love with a large plate of honesty in a neighborhood full of the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet.”
20th Street Cafe, Denver
Three generations have kept Denver’s 20th Street Cafe cooking for the past 74 years. But the restaurant could not survive the pandemic.
“Somehow 20th Street Cafe managed to stay open through a lot of good times and not-so-good times,” owners Rod and Karen Okuno wrote on Facebook. “Some upturns 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.’”