As San Mateo continues to deal with COVID-19 restrictions, local restaurants in the city, like Dahlia Mexican Grill, face severe financial loss and permanent closures if fortunes don’t improve.

Dahlia Mexican Grill, which opened November downtown at 164 S. B St., is at risk of permanently closing in the next couple of months if its situation doesn’t change, according to owner Sean Azad, one of the restaurant owners as part of the Azad Family Restaurant Group. Last week, he had to let go of all of his 34 employees, who he hired and trained in October. The restaurant is temporarily closed and does not have takeout because it is brand new and not used to quickly switching business models. Even with the cost-cutting measures, he still has reduced bills to pay for water, phone, internet, utilities and insurance, costing his new restaurant money without any revenue.

“When I opened in November, I thought we were going forward. I didn’t know we would go backward,” Azad said.

The restaurant wanted to bring upscale Mexican cuisine to the old Vault 164 Restaurant and Bar location, with the menu taking inspiration from Mexico’s traditional dishes. Before opening the restaurant, Azad had to get additional licenses because of the COVID-19 restrictions, delaying the opening a couple of months. He recently paid $15,000 to $20,000 on COVID-19 safety, including sanitizing equipment, protective glass and a patio for outdoor eating, all of which are not being used now that he is closed.

“I spent $15,000 for a patio that is just sitting there,” Azad said.

He believes the county and state government has not done enough to help his restaurant, and he finds the sudden orders and increased restrictions hard to keep up with for the business. He said he has not been able to get any state government financial assistance because it is only available for people who opened before the pandemic as opposed to during the pandemic. Many restaurant owners are in the same confusing situation as him, figuring out when health officials will allow restaurants to reopen. Azad is hopeful things will get better in the next two months, but he is focusing on day-to-day operations instead of overthinking about the future.

One of his biggest issues, he said, is that restaurants are heavily regulated and restricted, forcing many to temporarily or permanently close. At the same time, places like Target, Costco and other businesses have been able to continue indoor operations while not meeting the same COVID-19 standards as restaurants. He has spent time and money to ensure his place follows all county rules, while other businesses have been allowed to continue without the same restrictions from the county. He wants to see restaurants at least allowed to have outdoor dining, particularly when many businesses are still allowed to be open indoors, he said.

“I think the restaurant owners have suffered the most,” Azad said.

The San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce is trying to help local restaurants like Dahlia Mexican Grill. It co-signed a letter Jan. 11 to the state asking legislators to help businesses address certain regulatory issues, litigation threats and taxes. The letter, signed by various business advocacy groups, asked the governor or state legislators to temporarily suspend the California Family Rights Act for small businesses, some emergency regulations for COVID-19 and property taxes. It also asked the state to look at tax regulations, business regulations and barriers to housing, amongst other business issues.

Cheryl Angeles, the San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce president, said the state needs to do more to help struggling businesses. She recently walked through downtown San Mateo and did not see many businesses open or people around, calling it a “ghost town.” She said many businesses in San Mateo are in trouble without significant help.

She has received calls from restaurants and businesses saying they need more help to survive the past year. Entertainment and arts companies are also struggling like restaurants because they rely on performing indoors. She called the current situation dire, saying that many places could close permanently if the state does not do something to help businesses. State Sen. Josh Becker, D-San Mateo, is holding a meeting on Tuesday to hear from different local stakeholders, and she will be there to discuss the business community and its struggles.

“We are having a crisis,” she said.

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(1) comment


Yes, we have very unnecessary, tragic lockdown rules for many businesses Open up California! Example: Florida is open and doing great!. It's all about control!

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