Home Business Stealth Closures Further Rattle Unsteady Local Restaurant Scene

Stealth Closures Further Rattle Unsteady Local Restaurant Scene


Pick your reason: unforgiving landlords, an unforgiving and fickle public, changes in the national diet, corporate pressure on franchisees – the restaurant business, already tough, seems to be getting even tougher.

Several recent closures of local eateries have set tongues to wagging in the 24/680, and hungry diners off in search of someone else to build their sandwich or lunchtime salad. Some have wondered if there’s an “Amazon Syndrome” at play, with big footprint restaurants or food distributors cutting costs and pushing smaller, mom and pop restaurants into closure.

“It’s strange,” said Walnut Creek resident James Colombano. “You eat there a decade or so and then one day there’s a sign on the door thanking everyone for coming but saying they’re done. It’s a little spooky.”

Ask any local with the money to dine out from time to time and they’ll recite a litany of recent closures: Stanford’s, Evie’s, Le Cheval and Momo’s in Walnut Creek; Yankee Pier, Squirrel’s and Chow in Lafayette; Moraga’s Terzetto’s and the famous Jack In The Box – shuttered since 2016 but still drawing hopeful customers who shake it’s locked and chained doors.

Some, like Orinda’s deeply loved Village Inn, were sold by weary former owners to hopeful new ones hoping to make a go of things. Some have reopened their doors while others stay shuttered.

Many restaurant owners cited the slim margins and demanding hours inherent to the business as the driving reason behind their decision to close.

Reached after announcing the sale of his community favorite Village Inn in Orinda last year, owner Kurt Bellow said there was no impending disaster behind the owners’ decision to let the ovens go cold.

“It’s time,” Bellow said simply. “I’m tired.”

But with each new “Closed” sign comes a quiet group of disappointed diners lamenting the loss of “their” restaurant and the search for a new one that lies ahead.

“I know, nothing is forever, right?” James Colombano asked. “But you come to depend on some things in life and it shakes you up when they’re gone.”


  1. But Jack is coming back as a ice cream parler, or a mexican food place. I know because I read it on nextdoor a couple of years ago!!! When does the brewery open???

  2. I have to wonder how much of this is the direct result in the stay at home practices of many around here? The bride was already a more than passable cook when we met, we taught the kids to cook so they could get by in the world when they go out on their own and even I have learned how to make a few special dishes. The truth is we really enjoy family dinners at home and have gone to restaurants less and less over the years. so it may be a change in dining habits?

    • Quite possible, Jeremy. We’ve also had a reader pose the question of the lack of available workers in the market today.

  3. How about the cost of compliance to local/county/state/federal laws? Rising minimum wage? Health insurance for employees? “Risk management”? Marketing? How often have you asked yourself “Why does a decent turkey sandwich cost $13 dollars?” To own a small business is tough and to make a profit you have to ask yourself is it worth it.
    Look at the vacancy rates in small retail ‘strip malls’. More and more mixed-use buildings going up (state and county regulations don’tcha know) and with nobody to rent the space.
    Eliminate existing laws on small business. Get every agency created by every level of government out of the way for business owners and buy local!

  4. Slim margins, demanding hours, expensive leases and American’s eating out less often due to higher prices. If you’re raising children, enjoying a family meal together is very important. It’s one of the most important thing a happy family does together. Our kids are grown, and we eat out more often even though I love to cook. We enjoy the dining experience, and we enjoy being supportive of local restaurants.

  5. Two of those closures (Stanford’s and Yankee) were the same restaurant group. They were also “mainstays” who were not packed. Momo’s thought that it would replicate the success of the SF flagship, but apparently didn’t realize that it helps to have a Giants game next door 81 nights per year.

    Squirrel Cafe was not part of this trend, it closed about five years ago when the owner of the building had big plans that never happened. You also need to look at rising wage pressure on restaurants, which make operations expensive. Terzeto’s also scaled back its hours about five years ago and could not make it work. It’s one thing to be beloved, but you have to make a profit. These places would still be open if the food was good enough to keep people coming.

  6. One less air puff bagel shop or one less jack in the box does not bring tears to my eyes.

    Anyone bothered by this its probably more to do with underlying fact Lafayette and Moraga have been 2 of the worst places to eat out with main stay restaurants no one wants to order the food.

    We use to joke the permitting process must be run by some mafia of mediocre restaurants.

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