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    Reopening or Reconfiguring? SF’s Restaurants Contemplate the Future

    By David Landis “The Gay Gourmet”—

    With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, the tide is turning to the talk of reopening. Potentially, no industry has been harder hit than the restaurant world, where layoffs, closures, and pivoting to “meals at home” are the norm.

    And if that weren’t bad enough, a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll showed that more than 70% of Californians want the same restrictions that are currently in place—or greater restrictions—before reopening the economy.

    So, where does that leave San Francisco’s beloved restaurants?

    In a quandary.

    San Francisco Mayor London Breed is allowing the city’s restaurants to open for outdoor dining that meets specific protocols by June 12; she is moving forward with indoor dining that abides by city guidelines beginning July 13.

    What do some of our city’s chefs and restaurateurs think about that? The Gay Gourmet asked them, and here’s what they said:

    Foreign Cinema (California Cuisine) – opening June 24 outdoors

    “The restaurant will be open June 24 to courtyard dining only, Wednesday–Sunday. These new hours are a start as we learn about our public and the new world order. The undertaking of preparing the restaurant for mandated spacing, including tables, table paper, new menus, social distancing, bathroom protocols, sanitizer stations, available disposable masks, and thermometers has been underway for a while now. Our safety, as well as our guests, is our main priority. Before returning, team members must receive a negative test from the SF free testing sites for restaurant workers. We will start small and take services phase by phase to learn. In a sense, we are rebuilding our 20-year business once more, from the ground up, brick by brick.”

    Gayle Pirie, Chef and Owner

    Simco Restaurants at PIER 39 (American/Seafood) – planned June 12 reopening (provided PIER 39 is allowed to open then)

    Pier Market Seafood Restaurant

    Wipeout Bar & Grill

    Fog Harbor Fish House

    “We can’t wait to welcome guests to dine on our outdoor patios with safely distanced tables. All three of our restaurants also will offer takeaway food and drinks. We’re working to address the challenge of continuing to provide exceptional hospitality while maintaining safety protocols like servers wearing masks (which hides a server’s smile), only bringing condiments upon request, no bar (or waiting) area, and limiting server time at the table to reduce contact with guests. We are also reducing menu items to create safe spacing in our kitchen.”

    Nicki Simmons, Simco Restaurants 

    Palette (California Cuisine) – opening in September; Palette at Home available now

    “We have subscribed to implementing a full operation HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) plan for food and product handling. HACCP guidelines were developed by Cargil for NASA so scientists could treat food handling in space. These guidelines are implemented for massive food handling facilities, but we dial it in on the micro level with a relatively small restaurant. It’s a great way to document traceability and systems procedures. We are also planning better control of the space in front of our building. We consider that the moment our guest steps out of their car, we are in control of their experience for the evening. We’re working with the city to install parklets, landscaping, curb protection, etc. I am looking into leasing the land next to us for guest ‘self-parking’ and outdoor cooking activities. In the meantime, we are working on a host of picnic and weekend boxes soon to come as well as lunch boxes targeted for corporate clients.”

    Peter J. Hemsley, Chef and Owner

    Canela (A Taste of Spain) open now for meal kits; reopening TBD

    “We are taking it on a day by day basis. We want to make sure that not only our guests can remain safe, but our staff as well. We are ok making that decision a little bit closer to mid-June. We will only be able to have a few outdoor tables until we get approved to expand outside our normal footprint. We are examining our entire approach to food and service: from how the guests are separated, to how our staff is distanced as well. Placing food on a table has new meaning now. Before it would have been considered rude to put the plate anywhere but directly in front of the guest. Now, we are making arrangements to seat guests at larger tables than is necessary because we want to place the plates a little bit farther from the guest to be respectful of personal boundaries. Meanwhile, you can order tapas to-go, paella kits, flowers, and provision boxes online. We started an e commerce site where we sell our kits and to go food, but also an array of housewares, cookbooks, and other items that are growing every day. We are working with nonprofits to curate special meals and baskets for them that they can sell to their followers at a markup or even give to their high donors. This is a fundraising tool that can be completely customized with branded materials as well and hand delivered by us in the Bay Area. We handle all the logistics. We are also working with corporate clients to do the same, as team or customer loyalty gifts.”

    Mat Schuster, Chef and Owner

    IIDA – the International Association for Commercial Interior Design Association

    “People come to restaurants for cultural experiences and to be part of the community. Even with the critical safety and economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to focus on maximizing diner experiences. We designers need to evaluate how it feels to sit at every single table and adjust spaces so the customers feel safe, yet the experiences are still meaningful and delightful. That is what will ensure they return—and ensure the long-term health of the business.”

    Yoko Ishihara, Partner at Wilson Ishihara and President-elect of IIDA Northern California

    E&O Kitchen & Bar (Modern Asian) – takeout/delivery to begin mid-June

    “We will include some of our much-loved items (such as the corn fritters and dumplings), along with some popular cocktails that are easily enjoyed at home. Then we will phase in our Trading Company, which will be like a marketplace to get a quick grab of ready-to-eat items and provisions. The safety and health of our guests and staff is priority number one, so these measures will be put into place before we reopen for business. Our Trading Company offerings will continue even after we transition to dine in.” Sharon Nahm, Chef, E&O Kitchen and Bar/The Trading Company

    The Cliff House (Seafood/American) – opening TBD; Cliff House at Home: online ordering for pickup/delivery now; grab and go at Lookout Café (weekends)

    “The June 12 reopening outlined by the Mayor will be just for outdoor seating. That’s tricky for us since it’s usually too cold and windy out here. I’ve scheduled a meeting to explore ideas. Our biggest concern is staffing. We laid off many staff and hope to welcome back a majority. There will be strict distancing in reopening, which means losing about half the seating capacity. We’re planning also to morph the gift shop into a general store, with our full wine list, hard-to-get specialty items and more.”

    Ralph Burgin, Chef

    SPQR (Modern Italian) – to-go meals now, outdoor seating when we can

     “We have very little outdoor space, but we will use what we have and borrow or acquire to serve our customers. Regarding reopening, restaurants are cleaned more often than most retail businesses. The real elephant in the room is that restaurants cannot survive with 40%–70% less revenue. So, the reopening question becomes about cash-starved businesses considering a further investment in staffing and products to service an understandably nervous customer. It’s a bit of a risk, but the demand is clearly there. We have been doing takeaway as a full-service kitchen, including an a la carte menu and a few dinner packages. We may have to do a hybrid of a few different things for a while. It’s just the time we find ourselves in—and we have to get out of it together, ideally with grace.”

    Matthew Accarrino, Chef/Owner

    One Market (California Cuisine) – takeout and delivery to begin June 10

    “One Market has already been doing a successful wine promotion—Raid the Cellar—bottles of incredibly-priced wines are featured each week, along with cheese or caviar service. On June 10, we began takeout/delivery with the Ultimate Prime Rib Dinner for $45 (or fresh Wild King Salmon dinner for $39). We are also featuring classic One Market cocktails. The restaurant is also planning its reopening, which we are leaving a bit fluid right now to see how the area around the restaurant comes back. We may wait until the hotels reopen given our location—and when we do reopen, we will be introducing an outdoor dining café along with lunch and dinner service and the ability to host smaller socially distanced parties and events. We also are hoping to open a Friday afternoon Beer Garden concept in the atrium, but that will come as people come back to work in the building.”

    Mark Dommen, Chef/Partner

    According to Hoodline, the Castro neighborhood treasure Café Flore with its big outdoor patio may reopen soon, perhaps even in time for the June 12 mandate. Hoodline recently reported, “Over the holidays, the Castro’s longstanding Café Flore closed its doors to the public. Despite cutting back the 47-year-old cafe’s hours and menu, ‘we couldn’t get it to break even,’ said Terrence Alan, who took over Flore in 2017. He thought it might fare better as a private events space. But the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has blown up that plan, with Pride canceled and large public gatherings unlikely to return for months. So, Alan is moving back towards reopening Flore as a café. ‘I’d like to open the cafe as soon as we can, if it makes practical sense for safety,’ he said. But a reopening date is also dependent on whether he can find the right chef. We need somebody smart, with a new idea that fits with the neighborhood. It’s a great opportunity for someone looking to build a career.'”

    The Slanted Door/Out the Door (Modern Asian) – TBD; to-go products hopefully by end of June

    “We are not doing anything right now. We are still trying to assess the situation. We don’t have enough information for a concrete plan. We are working on to-go products that we’ll hopefully have in place by the end of June. We would launch that first. There are so many moving parts. We want customers to feel safe and our staff also to feel safe. So, we’ll wait and see.” Charles Phan, Chef/Owner

    So, restaurant reopenings in San Francisco are a bit of a mixed bag. The one sure thing: our restaurants need you now more than ever. Go out and support them—order takeout, buy a cocktail mix, shop the grocery offerings, get a gift certificate for a friend—but whatever you do, don’t just stay home during this pandemic.

    Foreign Cinema:
    Pier Market Seafood Restaurant:
    Wipeout Bar & Grill:
    Fog Harbor Fish House:
    IIDA – the commercial interior design association:
    E&O Kitchen & Bar:
    The Cliff House:
    One Market:
    Slanted Door:
    Out the Door:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a PR executive. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF, on Twitter @david_landis, email him at: or visit him online at:

    Published on June 11, 2020