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Tisza Bistro in Windsor Closes, Other Restaurants Struggle As Wildfires Rage Amid Pandemic

Will this finally be the death knell for some of our favorite local restaurants?

So when are the locusts coming? That’s the question we’re all asking ourselves as the skies darken once again, ash falls like rain and thousands of our county neighbors are evacuated.

It’s hard to find a silver lining for restaurants (or anyone) right now, since the smoke-filled skies are effectively shutting down outdoor dining, the one thing that was lifting spirits and bottom lines at least a little.

Restaurants are once again pivoting (it’s really like a constant twirl at this point) to takeout, but some restaurants have reached their limit.

Late last week, Tisza Bistro in Windsor closed after a three-year stint. The run of the restaurant, which served incredible Eastern European-Californian cuisine, was bookended by disaster.

I remember writing about Chef Krisztian Karkus just days after the Tubbs fire tore through Santa Rosa. At the time, he was trying to feed evacuees panini sandwiches with a waffle iron he bought at Kohl’s. We were both a little shell-shocked, but his schnitzel with lingonberry jam, breathtaking roasted beet salad and lamb shoulder provided a little bit of comfort in the firestorm.

Wiener schnitzel at Tisza Bistro in Windsor. (Heather Irwin)
Kale salad with pomegranate, Parmesan, wine-soaked currants and walnut vinaigrette at Tisza Bistro in Windsor. (Heather Irwin)

The restaurant closed as the newest wildfires, pandemic and ongoing struggles finally made it impossible to go on any longer.

“To say that things have been difficult over the last several months would be a severe understatement,” Karkus said in an email to patrons. “Due to these challenging times, we have made the very painful decision to close our doors permanently on August 15, 2020, and take some time to reflect on the last 3 years and perhaps reinvent ourselves down the road.”

Tisza’s last day was Aug. 15.

Many other restaurants are making a final effort, pleading with longtime customers. This week, K&L Bistro, an iconic Sebastopol cafe, told Facebook followers they were in danger of going under and were hoping for an uptick in take-out orders, as their patio has limited seating.

Downtown Santa Rosa’s Fourth Street, which was partially closed to traffic and turned into an open-air eatery earlier this summer, was nearly empty on Thursday as diners pulled out N-95 masks once again.

Will this finally be the death knell for some of our favorite local restaurants? That’s up to all of us. It’s more important than ever to support the hard-working chefs, staff, farmers and the long tail of other businesses that depend on us.

Editor’s Note: Travel, dining and wine tasting can be complicated right now. Use our inspirational ideas to plan ahead for your next outing, be it this week or next year. If you visit restaurants, wineries, and other businesses during the pandemic, remember to call ahead, make reservations, wear a mask and social distance.

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