Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers to you and me) was a constant source of inspiration for generations. He rarely looked away when there was strife or difficult conversations to be had, especially with children. During the Civil Rights Movement, Rogers filmed an episode featuring his African American mailman sharing a cool dip of feet with him in a wading pool. The simple gesture was a strong message during those times of unity, compassion and, of course, neighborliness.
Rogers learned a lot about dealing with difficult situations from his mother. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
With each month it becomes more difficult to see even a few weeks into the future when it comes to the restaurant scene. We’ve lost beloved favorites. Local treasures have reopened only to shut down again within weeks. Some landlords have been graciously flexible with rental and lease terms. Others have not.
It’s with confidence, though, that I say the following local institutions will still be plying their wares well after this column comes out. The humble bakery—set up for takeaway business and designed for in-home consumption—is an integral part of the community.
As I write this, Sacramento County has just reordered all indoor dining to shutter. The brief window of opportunity to visit a restaurant has closed after restaurant owners were put in a literally impossible situation of making diners feel safe, and still have their restaurants be the convivial gathering places they were pre-COVID. Too many of us expected bar and restaurant owners to enforce rules they were just coming to terms with and fully understanding.
But, thankfully, for those of us who cannot cook water without burning it, or those of us who cook competently but enjoy a restaurant meal now and again, or even those that cherish the opportunity to cook for our loved ones and yet equally admire the skill and talent that go into a truly professionally prepared dinner, we still have takeout.
I’m writing this piece during the heartrending events of late May/early June that have seen a tragic death in Minnesota ignite a storm of outrage that led to peaceful protests nationwide, that led to violent actions blocks from where I write these words. The circling helicopters I can hear are a constant reminder of the fractures of our society, our unmet duties to our neighbors and the love we fail to hold in our hearts for our brothers and sisters.
All that is to say, if this piece seems more fatalistic than normal, you’ll know why. And fatalistic it will be, for this piece is about those restaurants, those community gathering places we have lost. But, not to be too dour, this is also a reminder to treasure those eateries, those centers of community that are still here and make Sacramento one of the most vibrant eating cities in the country.
First thing you should know, I’m writing this in early May. Restaurants have not reopened for on-site dining. Life has not returned to anything resembling normal. And, from this point of view, a few weeks behind your current perspective, it doesn’t look like we’ll be gathering in large crowds anywhere anytime soon.
My friends in the restaurant industry have been hit harder than almost any other group during the pandemic. The well-loved institutions that have stayed open by offering take-out and delivery have done so with skeleton crews and shoestring budgets.