Some South San Francisco restaurant owners said the ability to have outdoor dining during the pandemic helped, while others said it didn’t or wasn’t able to be used.
Eleven restaurants participated in the outdoor pilot program the South San Francisco City Council approved in July 2020, and another 10 to 12 restaurants took advantage of their own private property to have patrons eat outside. South San Francisco restaurants that want to continue some form of outdoor dining will have to get a $500 permit to retain their parklet or sidewalk extension once the pilot program ends Dec. 31, the City Council decided.
Mediterranean restaurant Amoura took part in the outdoor dining pilot program after learning about it from the city’s outreach to businesses.
“It’s been a success and it added elements to make customers feel safer outside, the ones that don’t want to dine inside,” Sam Shihadeh, the restaurant owner, said.
The restaurant had moved to other means of income to support the limited staff that it kept and outdoor dining helped bring some revenue, as well as using delivery services, he said.
“The bulk of our business was to the biotech community in South San Francisco so, with COVID, all of the offices were shut down except for research and development, manufacturing,” he said.
It used to do a lot of catering which stopped during the pandemic and now it’s still been minimal, he said.
Because Linden Avenue is windy, the restaurant spent a lot of money to make the outdoor dining space nice by having a roof and adding palm trees and plants to mitigate the weather’s impact, he said.
“We’ve noticed that more people are opting to dine outside due to the COVID,” he said. “I think it should stay to support the restaurant as well as the safety of the customers and the community as a whole because some people’s comfort level is not going inside.”
It plans on obtaining the outdoor dining permit once the pilot program ends.
Boonkird Pankaew, managing owner, at the Thai Satay Restaurant & Bar, did not have as much success with outdoor dining. He approached the city to see if he could open outside and started about six months ago.
“The pandemic affected me drastically, cut down my income more than half. Outdoor dining helped but very little. We started in wintertime and South San Francisco is very windy and cold. So nobody really wanted to come out for dining outside. And now we start getting a little bit of warm weather but now we can open inside,” he said.
He also said the wind comes down from the mountain to his restaurant which is right on the corner.
“People don’t really want to sit outside. Once in a blue moon, someone asks to sit outside,” he said.
When asked if he would get the outdoor permit at the end of the year, he said maybe not.
The increase in COVID cases is currently affecting his business, he said, adding he is still recovering from the last year. He said he used to cater a lot to Genentech, a biotechnology company in South San Francisco but it hasn’t ordered from him since March of last year.
“I am concerned because I don’t know where it is heading right now, if it’s going to be less or more, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m afraid we will be closing down like we did again. One year is already hurting a lot.”
Izanami, a Japanese restaurant, took part in the pilot program but was not able to utilize the outdoor dining space much. It started in October but it had problems with the cold weather and wind. It had tried again this summer but said the bar next door, The Topper, sent a complaint to the city about its awning that was blocking its sign, the owner, Cindy Tang said.
“The city tried to help us out but unfortunately the next door didn’t let us do it,” she said.
She took down the awning and also said there was also not enough space to put out the tables because of being unable to share space with The Topper.
The Topper told the city about the issue after June 15 when the outdoor dining pilot project was expected to end but had been extended. Lee Cattaneo, the owner, said someone from the city agreed that his building was blocked and then spoke with the restaurant to take it down.
“Their outside eating area extended from the width of their building all the way past the width of my building, which I don’t care, but the front was completely blocked with awnings to where you could not see our place in the street at all,” Cattaneo said.
He also said the restaurant rarely used its outdoor dining and probably used it about three times during the COVID shutdown.
“We were not opposed to the outside eating at all. That’s fine,” he said. ‘The way it was constructed you couldn’t see our building at all or even our sign, it was totally blocked.”
Izanami had spent $6,000 on the outdoor dining space but said it likely will not acquire the outdoor dining permit after the pilot program ends.
Business has been slow the last couple of weeks since the rise in COVID cases and news about the delta variant. Tang is worried people may be afraid to go out to eat.
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