The Fish Market decided to close the original Palo Alto restaurant and a Santa Clara outpost this month, seeing the writing on the wall with rising coronavirus case counts and the likelihood of another shutdown, said Dwight Colton, president of Fish Market Restaurants. Soon after came the news that Santa Clara County would be preemptively implementing the state's regional stay-at-home order, shutting down outdoor dining until at least Jan. 4.
Pre-coronavirus, the bar at The Fish Market, which opened in Palo Alto in 1976. Photo by Sinead Chang.
Closing meant about 100 employees across the Palo Alto and Santa Clara Fish Markets were laid off.
"We've all lost sleep and have tried to map out any other option other than coming to this point," Colton said, "but takeout and delivery options are just not sustainable for our buildings."
The Fish Market isn't the first and likely won't be the last local restaurant to go into hibernation in the coming weeks. Steins Beer Garden & Restaurant in Mountain View has also temporarily closed until 2021.
The Fish Markets in Palo Alto and Santa Clara reopened this fall after several months of closures, but outdoor dining was "hit or miss," Colton said. "It was very difficult to get traction and do enough business to make it sustainable."
The Fish Market in San Mateo remains open given outdoor dining is still allowed in San Mateo County. It already had a waterfront deck with outdoor seating — a more attractive option, Colton said, than the makeshift, tented dining setups in the parking lots at the Palo Alto and Santa Clara restaurants -- and has more robust takeout, delivery and retail sales.
Cioppino served at The Fish Market in Palo Alto, which has closed temporarily due to the shutdown. Photo by Sinead Chang.
The Fish Market's two Southern California locations also remain open for takeout and delivery.
Colton is committed to reopening The Fish Markets in Palo Alto and Santa Clara sometime next year, when the COVID-19 vaccine starts to be available, weather improves and limited indoor dining can resume. Even with the previous limits on indoor dining — 25% capacity — being able to serve diners inside remains "the real key to the success of our restaurant," Colton said.
"I think everybody in the industry initially, when we were talking about limited capacity, we couldn't fathom how we'd make a go of our business at 25%. Most operators, ourselves included, have made significant changes to try to live in a 25% capacity world," he added. "We're not going to thrive at 25% but (would) be able to sustain the businesses."