SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – On the last afternoon of 2020, people gathered on Thursday afternoon to pay their respects to yet another victim of COVID when the landmark Cliff House, San Francisco’s beloved restaurant, was scrapped.
Earlier this month, the announcement of the final closure on December 31st was posted on the restaurant’s website by longtime owners of the Cliff House, Dan and Mary Hountalas. They said 180 employees would lose their jobs.
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The Cliff House, which opened 157 years ago, was a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic and delays the National Park Service in securing a long-term operating contract with the restaurant, according to the owners.
Overlooking Ocean Beach and its sweeping views, the Cliff House has a rich history. Once a bar and brothel in the late 19th century, it survived the 1906 earthquake and fire but burned down a year later. In 1973 Dan and Mary Hountalas took over the restaurant on a long-term lease from the National Park Service.
The Cliff House stopped eating in March due to the pandemic. Operators said they tried to work take away only in early June, but after 10 weeks the owners decided to close completely in mid-July. They said the restaurant lost too much money than just take away.
The last long-term contract between Cliff House and the National Park Service expired in June 2018, and the restaurant has since been operating under a series of short-term contracts, the current one ending on Thursday.
Mary Hountalas said last minute negotiations to renew the lease had failed.
“We got a call at 11 o’clock. “No, it’s a six-month extension and a three-year extension,” said one angry Hountalas. “It’s so tangled!”
She said the restaurant had lost employees, lost a lot of money and now lost the lease. They pack up all of their private property inside and outside the restaurant, including the iconic roof sign.
Diner diners have been visiting the restaurant since the announcement to pay their respects, but the removal of the Cliff House sign on the last day of a painful year apparently offered some closure to the dozen who came to say goodbye.
Several dozen people gathered along Point Lobos Avenue in front of the restaurant around noon on Thursday when workers dismantled the distinctive metal sign from the restaurant’s roof.
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The crowd gathered below with their phones raised, capturing the historic final moments when drills loosened the corroded bolts.
Several people yelled, “We love you, Cliff House!” or shouted “Thank you!” when the workers removed the screws that held the last letter of the sign in place. The crowd booed in unison as the large metal “E” was removed.
The Cliff House is not alone. Restaurants across San Francisco and the Bay Area are collapsed and will never reopen due to the mandatory COVID shutdown.
Chef Kevin Weber tried to keep his composure and said the staff were family.
“One of my dishwashers, Rafael, came by yesterday because it had been waiting nine months. He didn’t think it would happen, ”said Weber. “So he finally had to clear his locker. He worked for me for 27 years. “
Employees said goodbye all day.
“I worked until I was eight months pregnant,” said one waitress. Her son Lionel, who was now three years old, held on to her when he said goodbye.
Another receptionist held back tears.
“It’s … heartbreaking. Such a loss for all of us, ”she said with a big sigh.
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Owners said their debts could force them to auction the restaurant’s historic items, including the iconic sign.