Latest wave of restaurant closures hits Sonoma County
Exponentially rising food costs and a lack of staffing are nothing new to local restaurateurs who survived the pandemic, but as winter approaches and they face those challenges and more, a rising tide of restaurants is throwing in the towel.
Dino Moniodis of Zimi on Mission in Santa Rosa closed his pizza restaurant on Nov. 23 after his food costs jumped 23% since opening. The 18-month-old pizzeria at 500 Mission Blvd. was a business pivot from his food truck business as pizza sales skyrocketed during the pandemic.
“This has been a difficult season for many restaurants in terms of labor, increased food costs, supply-chain issues, as well as many other unforeseen challenges that have arisen in the hospitality industry following the pandemic,” Moniodis said in a social media post announcing the closure.
Reached by phone, Moniodis said he isn't planning to get out of the food business but can't sustain the pizzeria.
“I have to be profitable, and I can't do that out of a little pizza shack. Between labor and food costs, it was almost impossible. Things aren't getting any better, and I think it's just going to get worse over the next couple of years,” Moniodis said.
Zimi on Mission is just one of nearly a dozen restaurants that closed throughout the county in 2022. Almost all of the owners cited the difficulty in finding staff and food costs that continue to rise as supply-chain issues and inflation take their toll.
Winter's minimal tourist traffic and unpredictable weather for outdoor seating have compounded these problems in Sonoma County. Rather than trudge through the holidays with little hope for the future, restaurateurs like Sarah Piccolo of Fork Roadhouse in Sebastopol are closing on their terms.
“I realized after last winter that my catering business keeps the restaurant afloat in the winter, and I didn't have it in me to continue. There are days even restaurants you think are doing well aren't getting the business, and I'm in dread with state of inflation,” said Piccolo, who also closed her restaurant after nearly 10 years in business.
The Bodega Highway restaurant was a popular breakfast and brunch stop on the way to and from the coast, with a core of regulars who enjoyed the large outdoor patio and bohemian vibes of the roadhouse. A combination of business strains, exhaustion and a changing community all played a part in Piccolo's decision to step away from the restaurant portion of her business. She will continue catering, which has seen an upturn after pandemic restrictions have lifted.
“I need something more sustainable for my personal life, and things have changed so much here. Fork started organically with the help of a lot of people at this beautiful community spot, but those people have gone their different ways. There were still a lot of regulars coming, but a lot of new people had moved to Sonoma County. I just felt like it was time,” she said.
“It was sad, like a bad breakup, but a good decision,” said Piccolo.
The 46-year-old plans to use the next few months to figure out her future. She received a scholarship to participate in the Modern Elder Academy in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, a school dedicated to helping individuals in their 40s through 60s navigate career and life changes. Piccolo also plans to spend some time with her teen daughter.
“I haven't been able to go away and not stress about everyone (at the restaurant). It will be nice to only care about my family for a minute. You have to close some doors to open up others,” said Piccolo.
Other restaurants will simply wait out the winter hoping for better days as spring arrives. William Tell House in Tomales announced a winter cloture in late October.
“We based our decision on many factors, most important of which is to give our staff a much-needed break during the holiday season,” read a statement about the temporary closure on the restaurant’s Instagram page.
Other significant restaurant closures this year include Healdsburg’s Campo Fina, K & L Bistro in Sebastopol, The Villa in Santa Rosa and Trading Post in Cloverdale.
The news isn't all gloomy for the food industry.
In recent months, small pop-up food businesses and food trucks have thrived. Without high overhead costs, they can be more nimble.
Lunch Box restaurant in Sebastopol opened in late October at the former East West Cafe. After building a solid following for its messy burgers and loaded fries at pop-up events, owner Derek Harn started the business with a lean crew and limited hours, but plans to “expand the restaurant’s hours and offerings after the New Year.”
“Transitioning from a pop-up to a brick and mortar has been a dream come true,” he said.