Restaurants in the San Francisco-Bay area face a wave of COVID fueled by Omicron



The holiday wave has arrived at restaurants in San Francisco: Tuesday afternoon, chef Mourad Lahlou and the team at his Michelin-starred Moroccan food destination contacted diners to cancel reservations after a staff member called tested positive for COVID-19. Chef Matt Horn, weeks before the launch of his long-awaited second restaurant, Kowbird, called a hospital to arrange tests for his children; they had been sick and he wanted to be sure it was a cold. Jessica Kapoor, chief of staff at Saison Hospitality Group, reviewed reservations for the weekend in Los Angeles, where she was quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.

As the alarmingly rapidly spreading Omicron variant sweeps across the country, San Francisco restaurateurs again find themselves faced with a plethora of unattractive options, including temporary shutdown and adjustment to financial fallout or operation during downtime. holiday season despite understaffing and lack of equipment. to keep their communities safe. It’s not a new routine, but experience doesn’t make decisions any less terrifying, especially since so many companies have been taken a beating in the past 18 months. “I didn’t see it coming at all,” Lahlou said. “I thought we were over the bump. It’s just a nightmare that’s not going to end.

Lahlou says his downtown San Francisco restaurant was “tightly booked” until the end of the year and estimates that each week the restaurant is closed could cost between $ 150,000 and $ 200,000 in revenue. That’s a big blow when paired with cancellations resulting from JP Morgan’s healthcare conference going virtual – as well as the fact that he’s still paying off PPP loans and rents from the start of the pandemic. “Do you keep taking beatings?” Said Lahlou. ” I really do not know. I really don’t have the answers.

He’s not the only one looking for advice. Unlike March 2020, when the city closed completely, and in November 2020, when restaurants closed for indoor dining, Omicron finds restaurants in San Francisco without many clear restrictions in place. Indoor meals are open, though guests are required to show proof of vaccination and there are no social distancing requirements. The lack of mandatory security measures places a responsibility on business owners to protect both staff and customers, who have no choice but to voluntarily shut down their restaurants during what is normally one of the times. busiest times of the year. A growing number of restaurants and bars – AL’s Place and Chezchez in the Mission have both announced temporary closures on Instagram, and a number of East Bay spots, including Daytrip and Friends and Family, are doing the same.

Others are advancing. Chef Matt Horn opened his beloved barbecue restaurant amid what one could reasonably call the worst days of the pandemic. Now, as he’s about to start his long-awaited second effort, Omicron arrives on the scene. Horn says he’s trying to stay positive, but he’s worried. “The spirit of the restaurant industry is cooking, love, community and fostering relationships. Watching restaurants close, you get the impression that people start to feel discouraged, ”says Horn.

He is delighted to carry out Kowbird; the soul food restaurant pays homage to his family and to the South with a menu built around an exceptionally crispy fried chicken. But having to worry about the safety of its staff and customers puts a damper on the atmosphere surrounding the opening. He had hoped to be able to throw a big opening celebration in January, but now the pitmaster says he doesn’t think it’s something the community wants – and honoring the community of West Oakland is a vital tenant. of everything he does. Horn says he’s relying on faith to stay resilient, but opening another restaurant in the shadow of COVID-19 is difficult. “I don’t think the restaurant industry has given up hope,” he says. “But I think there is a growing loss of optimism.”

Restaurant Embarcadero Fisherman
Patricia chang

But while this year may seem like a piercing echo of Spring 2020, Kapoor points out that there are key differences. Having already weathered the ups and downs of previous outbreaks, the Saison, Angler and Copas teams have a playbook on the pandemic: they can choose to hold tables to reduce the number of diners inside, close meals. inside or close temporarily if they feel the need. None of the options bring much convenience, but at least they are familiar. “We just have to be very fluid and really pivot on the dime,” she said. “But I think that’s what COVID taught us to do and here we are again, another test.”

Kapoor says she’s not sure what the next few weeks hold for restaurants; it cannot predict whether restaurants will be forced to close or not if enough staff are infected with the virus. For now, she says bookings for the holiday weekend have gone down, but the team still expects it to be a busy few days. Of course, Kapoor will be home in quarantine until she can safely return to work. “All of a sudden you feel so helpless,” she said of her inability to lend a helping hand. “Be thankful for the people around you and the little things, you know?”



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