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Bistro 29 in Santa Rosa Closing Permanently

Bistro 29 is the first high-profile restaurant in Sonoma County to announce it will permanently close after shelter-in-place orders forced restaurant dining rooms to shutter statewide.

It’s been weeks since Brian Anderson, owner and chef of Santa Rosa’s Bistro 29, had a good night’s sleep. His cozy French bistro on Fifth Street has been doing brisk nightly business serving takeout orders of smoked salmon crepes, gourmet mushroom-stuffed sole and lemon rhubarb bars. The $22 to-go menu was keeping the doors open during the county’s mandatory shelter-in-place order, but Anderson knew it wasn’t going to be enough.

That realization came after years of drawn-out challenges with the city’s downtown parking policies and the issues posed by its homeless population, along with multiple wildfires biting into his bottom line. Anderson had weathered it all, building along with his wife a business where his children had grown up bussing tables and where he had retained some staff for more than a decade.

Now, in the fourth week of the county’s shelter order, he said he is walking away from it all.

“I’m just officially done. Looking at the last two to three years, we’re just not making it,” Anderson said Thursday, hours after he announced in a Facebook post that the restaurant would permanently roll up its iconic striped awnings on April 25.

Bistro 29 is the first high-profile restaurant in Sonoma County to officially close since dining rooms were shuttered statewide in mid-March. It won’t be the last.

In what may be a harbinger of things to come, Anderson’s decision was the culmination of years of constant struggle in an already taxing industry. The nagging thought of having to reopen his restaurant to an uncertain future, he said, was more than he could fathom.

“Our kids are now 21 and 19 and they’re going off to school and need help now. At some point, you have to look at this all a little selfishly. I have to try to go find a job so I can make some money,” he said.

Many family-owned restaurants in Sonoma County like Anderson’s are simply throwing darts these days at anything that might bring in revenue. Though many, like Bistro 29 were seeing limited success with creative takeout options, delivery, and minimal staffing, altering longterm business models to the new reality isn’t a sure-fire recipe for survival. With SBA loans and other economic relief efforts now flagging, riding out the storm is becoming more of a long shot for many.

“We opened in 2008, during the recession,” Anderson said. A three-year lawsuit over disabled access to an existing restroom followed, and then two massive wildfires.

“And coronavirus has just taken us to the breaking point,” Anderson said.

Though Gov. Gavin Newsom recently discussed the possibility of reopening dining rooms with reduced seating when shelter-in-place restrictions loosen, Anderson says it’s too little, too late. With just 16 tables in his restaurant, social distancing would cut that to seven tables. With tight margins already, the downsizing would make any profit nearly impossible.

When another restaurant owner expressed interest in buying the business, the deal was sealed for Anderson. “We knew closing or reopening wasn’t gonna be easy. But someone approaching us helped us make our decision. It’s a daunting task to close and a daunting task to think about reopening,” he said.

Telling his staff goodbye has been heartbreaking.

“As much as we’re moving on, it’s a super hard thing to go through. I go to work 60 to 70 hours per week, and our staff is like family. Saying goodbye to those people and those relationships…” he trails off. “When I wrote that email to say goodbye to all of our clients and talking to my sous chef for an hour last night, that was more emotional than anything.”

Anderson said that he remains in discussions with a local restaurateur to purchase the business for use as another eatery, but has not finalized the deal.

Until Bistro 29 closes, Anderson said he hopes friends will come by for a final meal, even if it has to be to-go. Then, he’s going to take a few weeks off.

“Going on vacation when you own a restaurant, you’re never fully on vacation. We’ll be able to have a little time off and relax for a couple of weeks. I hope this will give me time to figure out what I want to do next. I just need to see what is best for my family now,” he said.

He’s hoping that includes a decent night’s sleep.

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20 thoughts on “Bistro 29 in Santa Rosa Closing Permanently

  1. So you open a restaurant during a recession and you immediately get attacked by lawyers for 3 YEARS! but you continue to fight governmental mandates 16 hours a day but you keep paying taxes to the same government that uses those tax dollars to put you out of business? Am I missing something? Are disabled people now better off because they put a restaurant out of business? If closing businesses is good for the disabled community then maybe government should close all businesses? The current protesters (BLM ) loot stores burn businesses tear down art and statues cover anything that’s left with graffiti throw bottles and rocks at police when they come to help. Am I missing something? Over the fathers day weekend 105 people were shot in Chicago, 2 of them 3 year olds who died and 14 teenagers were also killed. Where is the outrage? Does anyone even know the names of these two children who were murdered? Does BLM even care? Will BLM plaster the names of these murder victims on placards and ‘March” and “protest” and loot and plunder and burn and try to destroy the USA on behalf of these kids? Probably not. I’m going to stop rambling now, it’s all too depressing.

  2. This is owned and operated locally – so proud!! Brian is a Piner High School graduate who met the most wonderful Françoise when he was w/ a cycling team in France. Now their children Claire and Tom have helped out in the restaurant – so fun to watch them clipping the herbs from the garden window in front of the restaurant, etc.!! The family has taken part in our public schools – such as their children’s performing all the patter when Steele Lane Elem. did G & S “Pirates of Penzance!” They treat not only their superior staff as “Family,” but also their patrons. I hope that the word spreads and that SR orders a ton of take-out meals before they close 4/25!!!!!!!

  3. Not that we go out much more than maybe twice a year, but I’d expect at least half the smaller non-chain restaurants to stay closed once the dust settles. Same goes for small stores and other small businesses that depend on people coming in like barber shops etc.
    We’ll see lots and lots of “for rent” commercial real estate.

  4. The part about the kids going off to school struck a chord with me. I get it. Still takes guts to pull the trigger. Respect for making a great product and service for as long as you did. Not easy being a small business anywhere, let alone SR. I have a feeling you’ll be fine.

  5. Really sad. I have been a long time customer of Bistro 29 and Santa Rosa won’t be the same without it Best wishes to the Andersons though.

  6. Brian and Bostro 29 had the best best in the county according to me and my wife. So sorry and we will order a meal before the 25th!!

  7. Three year ADA lawsuit started the unraveling.

    We used to own restaurants and we spent a lot of money making them ADA compliant yet that wasn’t enough as in California the Unruh Act makes every “violation” a $1000 offense.

    Think a front door that is 1 pound too heavy from spec to open, a toilet paper roll that is 2 inches too far from the toilet, a slope that is 1 degree out of spec a mirror that is one inch off etc.

    Each one means a demand for $1000 from a lawyer representing and “advocate.”

    A three year fight means Bistro 29 had maybe 100 “violations.”

    It can add up quickly as the ADA guidelines are obtuse and ever changing.

    It is an industry.

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  8. Bistro 29 has been our favorite restaurant for many years. It is very sad that it will close. We wish the Andersons good luck.

  9. But if it saves just one person, making the owners and employees jobless and eventually homeless and hungry will have been worth it.

  10. Welp…only the beginning. I’m sure the Starks will pay for the next lease and have another amazing local idea…#thestrongsurvive

    1. Pretty cavalier way to discuss a family business that makes the best French food in the county and unfortunately has to close due to jacked up circumstances. Show a little respect because I’ll put 10 racks down any day that says you couldn’t run a restaurant 1/4 as well as The Andersen’s ran Bistro 29.

      1. @Andrew Kramer well said. I love the Starks but why would someone even say something like this? Man. Messed up.

  11. We are at a tipping point and there will be many more restaurants to follow. From the fires, PG & E outages, the mandatory pay increase that dis-allow counting gratuities, a city council unconcerned about small businesses, a downtown that just doesn’t work, and in general…. a city, county and state who think it’s ok to never stop taking from the backbone of our wine country culture, the small business…until they took too much and broke it permanently……hello McDonalds, Applebees, Starbucks, Subway and Burger King…thats what you’ll get in Santa Rosa.

    1. Thanks to the people who voted for our so called representatives. CA has decayed into ruin. Elections have consequences.

      1. Elections really don’t work anymore. I voted for Trump in 2016 and the Democrats have been working 24 hours a day to destroy his presidency because they hate him! They used a bogus Russia collusion claim to destroy him, they impeached him for nothing and on and on. The president started his term by eliminating regulations that were harming small business like Bistro 29 and he also is a tireless cheerleader for the USA, everybody in the USA and they still want to kill him! I don’t get it. One of the founders of BLM just said that she wants to destroy Donald Trump if he doesn’t quit. Elections don’t work anymore. If they did, we wouldn’t be facing the massive failure of small business brought to you and all of us by the Democrat Party. Vote democrat and the country will die.One more thing, when Trump gave a rousing state of the union address in january which was really yet another attempt at promoting the economy of the USA, Nancy Pelosi tore it up in front of the whole world. Real classy Nancy. Promote the USA and the democrats tear it up. We are doomed as a country.

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