Adapt or Close
Creativity keeps restaurants open
By Scot Crocker
Under state and county health rules, they closed their dining rooms, reopened and closed again. Many Sacramento restaurants pivoted to the new reality. Others weren’t so lucky.
More than 130 restaurants in the Sacramento region have permanently shuttered under the pandemic, Yelp reports. Others plan to reopen, such as Pizza Rock on K Street. Some, such as Empress Tavern on K Street, downsized from more than 30 employees to four.
Many restaurants kept their kitchens running by joining Great Plates Delivered, a program launched in April by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Great Plates creates meals for older adults.
Solomon’s Delicatessen is participating in Great Plates, but has gone further. When the virus hit, Solomon’s temporarily closed. Co-founders Andrea Lepore and Jami Goldstene decided to broaden the brand and expand the menu.
The restaurant, named for Tower Records founder Russ Solomon, has kept its signature dishes—bagels, lox sandwiches and pastrami-on-rye. Additions have an international flair.
“We wanted something new and different,” Lepore says. “Sacramento is diverse and we wanted to represent that diversity, so we brought in new influences and new menu items.”
The result is upscale street food that includes dishes from Israel, Japan, China and Argentina. Solomon’s has a large outdoor seating area, perfect for the times. But the restaurant battles the perception that much of Downtown and Midtown are closed.
“We needed to offer an experience,” Goldstene says. “We’ve taken things in-house. We are making our own artisan breads and desserts. It’s all very local and we are striving to make everything right. Our bagels are made fresh daily. But we also have pita bread, Japanese milk buns, babka and other creations from Emily Mallari, our lead baker.”
Adds Lepore, “It’s awesome. Weekends are fun and we have a safe and secure setting with 12 tables open on the patio that can service 30 to 40 people. Because of our redeveloped property at 700 K St., we are hoping to add more outdoor seating and continue to serve the small number of people who are going to work each day Downtown.”
Henry de Vere White is another entrepreneur working to accommodate the pandemic at de Vere’s Irish Pub on L Street, which he opened with his brother Simon. They also partnered at two themed sites on R Street, The Snug and The Doobie Bar.
“People have really come out to support us,” Henry de Vere White says. “We have reached deep to find creative solutions. We understand what is happening to people. Friends are losing their jobs. Rhythms of Downtown are off. Traffic has changed. We need to find ways to be memorable.”
Governmental support from the city, state and Downtown Partnership helped, he notes. But de Vere White says survival would not be possible without his employees.
“I’m very grateful each day for our team and proud of our people,” he says. “We have had to change almost everything. We look for the right formula. Other restaurants are doing the same thing. They have to.”
De Vere’s Irish Pub has outside seating with safety protocols. A Snug Jr. has opened at the L Street site with patio dining, curbside pickup and comfort food, including burgers and salads.
On R Street, The Doobie Bar experience is contactless. A lifeguard ushers in customers. Boat drinks and beach music rule the waves. Orders are made and paid for via phone. Drinks arrive on a cart.
“The restaurant and bar business can be a challenge when times are good. Now we have a whole new world affecting everything,” de Vere White says. “We don’t see any convention business. Tourism is limited. Offices aren’t open. There’s no sports or concerts at the arena. We do it because we love it. We take care of people, create spaces and new experiences for them.”
Scot Crocker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.