How many restaurants will close this summer?
As hot weather prevails, I hear the worry in restaurant owners' voices. The reason: Summer is the slowest time of the year. And if a restaurant didn't make enough money between last year's holidays and Mother's Day, there's a good chance it won't last through the summer.
I've heard this repeatedly from various restaurateurs. And we've already seen the closure of longtime spots LaRocca's, Venezia, and The Original Coney Island. Ribs & Tips on Divisadero Street shut down, as did GiGi's Cucina Italiana in the RiverView shopping center at Friant and Fort Washington roads.
I asked GiGi's owner, Pino Borrelli, if he thinks the closure predictions will come true. "That's a guarantee," he says. "Summer's going to be so rough this year."
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Like others, he says he was hit by the economy. A good example is Valentine's Day. GiGi's seated just eight fewer diners than it did last year, Borrelli says, but sales were significantly down. Folks ordered cheaper dishes and ordered less booze.
Borrelli says the unexpected February closure of Gold's Gym also hurt the restaurant. The gym reopened as Fort Washington Fitness under new owners, but GiGi's foot traffic never was the same, he says. The restaurant closed in late June, soon after summer officially arrived.
The poor economy also is causing potential restaurateurs to hesitate. Jorge Trinchan, who turns Brazilian-style grilled meats into deli sandwiches with a twist, is a caterer for now -- despite repeated requests to open a restaurant. He dishes up sandwiches such as filet mignon with chimichurri (a green sauce with an herbal kick) and escabeche onions (cooked onions marinated in vinegar, olive oil and herbs).
It's a smaller, less expensive version of all-you-can eat Brazilian restaurants. Trinchan would know. He was the executive chef of Samba Churrascaria at Palm and Herndon avenues and Rio Grill Brazilian Steakhouse in Clovis.
Festivals along the coast and in northern and southern California regularly invite Trinchan to bring his portable rotisserie. Cooking at such events keeps overhead low and profits higher, he says. And going to the coast means he follows the central San Joaquin Valley crowd. Trinchan says he's picked up Fresno clients from such festivals. (To book Trinchan for an event, call him at (559) 473-9593.)
He's confident in his concept, but don't expect a restaurant anytime soon. "I have to watch the market before I say it's time to put money together and open."
Of course, the struggling economy doesn't spell doom for the restaurant industry. My regular readers know I often write about new restaurants; you can see them at my blog.
Still, diners should be mindful of the tough times. If you like a restaurant, head there for some meals this summer. It can make the difference between closing and staying open.