A growing number of restaurants and food businesses are closing for a “winter break,” citing stay-home restrictions that show no chance of being lifted anytime soon. Since Dec. 12, restaurants have not been allowed to operate outdoor dining areas, reducing their business to takeout only, something most say isn’t worth the effort right now.
Winter always has been a tough season for Sonoma County restaurateurs, but now, many have all but given up after nine-plus months of unprecedented business interruptions due to the pandemic. While only a handful of restaurants have closed since last March in Sonoma County — including Bistro 29, Bruno’s, Local Barrel, The Whole Pie and Tisza Bistro — restaurateurs hope a temporary closure will allow them to conserve resources. With new paycheck protection money and unemployment benefits coming from the federal government, restaurants like Sebastopol’s Fern Bar see an opportunity to take a breather until stay-home orders are lifted.
“To-go sales are not even helping us break even,” said Sam Levy, Fern Bar’s general manager and managing partner. The restaurant in the Barlow closed for “winter hibernation” on Monday. “We’re trying to do right by our team and our bottom line and not exposing ourselves unnecessarily,” he said.
“It’s hard every day to be open and to lose just as much (money) as if we were closed,” he said. “But things are looking up and the stay-at-home order will be lifted and soon everyone will be safe. We’ll get some sunshine and we’ll all come back out and make the most of 2021.”
Other restaurants taking a winter hiatus include McNear’s Saloon & Dining House in Petaluma, Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, Hazel Hill (at the new Montage Hotel in Healdsburg), Chalkboard in Healdsburg and Central Market in Petaluma.
On a positive note: The joys of takeout
With a cold hunk of fried chicken in one hand and a fork in the other, my husband is gyrating around the kitchen to his own music. He’s not usually one for such outbursts of silliness, but his happy food dances are becoming rather frequent as we continue to suss out really good takeout food. “Oh my god, this is good,” he mumbles with his mouth mostly full, late on a Sunday night, rather awkwardly shaking his hips.
Such are the small joys of takeout, we’re realizing. Eating at our own pace, nibbling, grazing and re-enjoying a single meal for up to three days (the New Year’s black-eyed peas just kept on giving). Instead of gobbling up a meal at a restaurant and most likely throwing away the leftovers, we now savor each course hot, then cold, then refrigerated, then for lunch … and so on. Every time is a new experience, and every time is a new treat.
So when you order that $60 to $100 family meal from a spot like Backyard or Spinster Sisters or any of dozens of farm-to-table restaurants putting out seriously tasty takeout, take the time to enjoy it for as long as you like. And maybe do a dance or two in your kitchen.