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Gerard’s Paella restaurant to close, spotlighting downtown Santa Rosa parking, homelessness

Chef Gerard Nebesky plans to close his Santa Rosa restaurant he opened last year, adding to the list of downtown restaurants that have gone out of business this year.

Nebesky, owner of Gerard’s Paella y Tapas on Fourth Street, said customers have been turned off by area homelessness and parking hassles.

He opened the eatery in July 2018 to the anticipation of local foodies as a result of a past that included operating the Bohemian Cafe in Occidental and beating celebrity chef Bobby Flay on “a paella throwdown” in a cooking competition over the Spanish rice dish on his Food Network TV show.

Yet Nebesky said it was hard to keep attracting customers because of problems endemic to the downtown that included: metered parking that other than Sunday typically lasts until 8 p.m.; dimly lit areas around his restaurant that made his patrons feel unsafe; and a continuing homeless issue that reached its low point when a transient urinated in his dining room.

“It is such a battle downtown,” said the 54-year-old Nebesky, who will continue operating his catering business. “I was literally pouring $5,000 a week into it to keep it afloat.”

The chef and his investors made the decision after area evacuations from the recent Kincade fire closed his restaurant for a few days.

The exact date of the closing has not been set as of Tuesday, he said.

The closure follows other notable restaurant closings downtown this year after city and economic development officials made a priority to revitalize the area after the reunified Old Courthouse Square opened in 2017 to attract more businesses and residential living.

The earlier closings included Stout Brothers, Jade Room, Mercato, Tex Wasabi’s and La Vera Pizza.

Nebesky has been a longtime critic of the city’s parking meter policy.

Some of his diners have gotten tickets for not being diligent enough in monitoring their time left on meters, a complaint that he has shared with other local business owners such as Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River Brewing Co. nearby on Fourth Street.

“People have anxiety when they come in,” Nebesky said of the parking meters that he thinks should end daily at no later than 6 p.m.

Local business owners have formed the Downtown Action Organization to help pay for supplemental staff to help beautify the area and guide visitors around. But Nebesky said more police officers are needed on patrol to provide an extra layer of security so people feel comfortable coming downtown.

“I’m done with these battles,” he said. “I would rather do it somewhere else.”

Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, which is spearheading the downtown revitalization efforts, said Nebesky raised “some meaningful points” that also have been expressed by other city business owners. Rumble hopes these issues get City Council’s attention. For example, he said the downtown used to have six city police officers on patrol but that number has been reduced to two officers.

Nonetheless, Rumble said he didn’t think it’s “unsafe to be downtown.”

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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