Mary’s Pizza Shack downtown exit reflects struggles of Santa Rosa restaurants as pandemic persist, financial woes mount

Some downtown Santa Rosa proprietors saw the departure of Mary’s as another unwelcome sign of continued challenges ahead.|

The abrupt closure over the weekend of two Mary’s Pizza Shack restaurants in Sonoma County marked the latest blow to a local restaurant scene upended by the pandemic and, for downtown Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, the departure of anchor eateries.

The closures come as local restaurant owners report persistent struggles with worker shortages, rising rents, supply issues and uneven business.

Some downtown Santa Rosa proprietors saw the departure of Mary’s as another unwelcome sign of continued challenges ahead.

“In the long run, I think the closure will impact us in a negative way,” said Sonu Chandi, president and founder of Chandi Hospitality Group, and owner of Beer Baron in downtown Santa Rosa. “These are challenging times for restaurants in many ways. First we were impacted by the fires, then the pandemic just made things worse. The housing prices in our community don’t help, either.”

The move by Mary’s Pizza Shack comes as the family-owned restaurant group transitions from a single company operating 14 locations in Sonoma, Napa, and Solano Counties to 14 individual, family-owned and operated restaurants.

The downtown Santa Rosa and Sebastopol closures were based on revenue, according to Mary’s Pizza publicist Jacob Perez. The Fourth Street restaurant was closed for three months, between November 2021 and February, due to a health department order and staffing shortage.

Since the pandemic began, at least 45 restaurants have closed across Sonoma County, citing a range of financial pressures and business decisions.

The Chandi group have not been immune to the headwinds. Their downtown restaurants Bollywood, Bibi’s Burgers and Stout Brothers all closed between 2018 and 2020.

To survive, Chandi says his company, which also owns Mountain Mike’s Pizza on Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa, has had to “get creative” to attract and maintain their workforce.

“We’ve taken a lot of initiative to support our workers by providing them with health benefits and career opportunities,” said Chandi.

He added that they’re still having a hard time competing in the current marketplace, with unemployment at 2.6% in Sonoma County in April and housing prices at record highs.

Gray Rollins, owner of Belly Left Coast Kitchen in downtown Santa Rosa, used to go to Mary’s Pizza Shack for their “awesome pizza” and is sad to see them go.

“Mary’s is a major staple in the Bay Area, and I will definitely miss them,” said Rollins. “So many mom and pop restaurants are in the same boat right now. People want to come out, but now there is a new COVID variant.

“We’ve been through so much,” he said. “I think we just need to get over this hump.”

The city of Santa Rosa and downtown businesses tried a host of new things during the early stages of the pandemic to bring in more foot traffic. That included closing a stretch of Fourth Street to give restaurants more room to serve patrons dining outside.

Rollins was disappointed when the city reopened the 500 block of Fourth Street to car traffic. “It was a great place for families to walk downtown be right in the square,” he said.

But he’s hopeful the return of the Wednesday Night Market will be a boost to nearby businesses.

Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, is hopeful, too.

“We’re excited there are four new businesses that have either opened or are about to open in downtown Santa Rosa,” he says, citing Warike Restobar, Kancha SR, a new pizza restaurant, and a tattoo studio.

“It’s very disappointing to see Mary’s Pizza Shack close and we’re sad to see them go. But we continue to improve the vitality of downtown Santa Rosa and are happy about that trajectory,” Rumble said.

Businesses continue to work hard to maintain outdoor seating areas, while the Downtown Action Organization, a group that supports small businesses through the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, maintains public spaces and keep storefronts clean.

Special events, including the Wednesday Night Market, summer movie nights and an upcoming concert series, could inject more business into the area, restaurateurs said.

Chandi, a founding member of the Downtown Action Organization said, “there are a lot of foundational issues that are making it difficult for the restaurant industry at this time.”

Some stem from the deep hit to restaurants after the 2017 fires, a period that saw Sonoma County shrink in population for the first time in its history and a number of established restaurants close their doors.

The past two years have added to the strain in many ways, Chandi said.

“We can’t just continue to throw money at things. We have to be creative. To attract a workforce, we need to focus strongly on building programs that encourage people to move to Sonoma County and work in the hospitality industry. It’s a very dynamic situation and we need all hands on deck.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or

Sarah Doyle

Wine & Lifestyle Reporter

Wine is the indelible heartbeat of Sonoma County. As the wine industry continues to evolve, my job is to share the triumphs, challenges and trends that affect our local wine region, while highlighting the people — past and present — who have contributed to its success. In addition, I cover spirits, beer and on occasion, other lifestyle topics.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.