The pandemic and related closures haven’t been kind to small businesses—especially restaurants. But the past week has brought a slew of closures or announcements from restaurants set to shutter for good before the new year starts.
The latest restaurant to throw in the kitchen towel is Pizzetta 408, a Neapolitan wood-fired pizza joint that has been in the SoFA Market in downtown San Jose since early 2017. It’s planning to close for good as of Dec. 31.
Pizzetta 408 follows a slew of other closures in the market, including Vero Coffee, which closed in October after its lease expired. Vitamina, a smoothie and juice bar in the food hall, served its last granola bowl in June.
“All of the closures weren’t surprises to us, because they actually coincided with the leases ending,” said David Ma, general manager of the SoFA Market. “It was more like, ‘are you guys going to renew or not?’ And certainly, given the circumstances, people didn’t. We understood that.”
SoFA Market, a food hall that in its prime attracted thousands of visitors a week has struggled to keep that foot traffic moving during the pandemic. Some days the number of people who pass through the building is as low as 30, while health regulations have oscillated between allowing delivery and takeout only, to allowing outdoor dining and back again.
Currently, about seven restaurants are open and operating in the food hall, Ma said.
“We have some lonely nights there now,” he said. “We did see a little bit of a bounce-back when outdoor dining was OK’d and bars were able to serve as well, but since we had to pivot again, it’s a dead zone.”
Forager, another food hall and event center nearby, closed during the pandemic as rent became too large an obstacle after nine straight months in which large events were outlawed in the county. In its place will come a game lounge where Forager will be allowed to host its remaining events in the coming year.
But it’s not just food halls that are struggling during the pandemic. Other downtown restaurants and businesses have also announced their closure in the last week.
Chacho’s, which has been in San Jose since 1994 (with only a short stint in Campbell for a few years in the middle) is closing its once popular Santa Clara Street location for good. Jorge Sanchez, a representative for the restaurant and bar, packed up the pieces of the business late last week and told San Jose Inside he didn’t think he’d come back to the city again.
“I don't think downtown San Jose has anything to offer me anymore,” he said. “I've been through multiple, multiple administrations, and I've seen multiple growth [periods], multiple downfalls, the economic crisis, the bank collapse, the housing market, the dot-com bust, and now Covid. I think the golden years of downtown San Jose have passed.”
Not only has Chacho’s struggled with the pandemic shutdowns, but the storefront was damanged earlier this summer during the nationwide protests over police brutality following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Then came the break-ins. Sanchez said the break-ins came as the homeless population grew in the area, which also made it less hospitable for patrons, even when outdoor dining was allowed.
“It’s just a world of hurt,” he said. “There’s a lot of homeless around here and they’re struggling. There’s a lot of addicts, there’s people that are trying to find food for their families, for themselves, as well as shelter.”
Though Chacho’s got some federal PPP money, it didn’t get any local city or county funds and went from employing 47 people and raking in $180,000 in revenue in its prime months, to having just seven employees serving a dwindling customer base.
Today the restaurant has about $147,000 in deferred rent and a $10,000 PG&E bill. When the State Board of Equalization came knocking for money, he knew it was over.
“The dam is bursting and I’m filling the little holes with my fingers and it’s just—it’s just futile,” Sanchez said. “It’s too much.”