Puttin' the Squeeze on South Park

The boom-and-bust backlash

SLO-MA Word is out: The economic downturn has hit our beloved industry harder than a mallet on a veal cutlet. Nightly totals indicate customers are cutting back on dining out. Sales reps for wine and spirits are hard-selling -- which shouldn't be too difficult for them since we could all use a little nip to numb the boom-and-bust backlash. Harry thinks media hype is much to blame for the recent empty seats. But that means little to SOMA's restaurant scene, which is feeling the squeeze more than ever since the area flatlined. Eric Vreede, partner/GM at Cafe Monk, tells Harry that due to a lame daytime business he's closing for lunch to focus on dinner five nights a week. South Park's Ristorante Ecco had its own reaction to the market drop: On Monday, April 9, owners and management announced that after 10 years in business they're closing on April 14 due to their inability to renegotiate a favorable lease. How very dot-com of them to let the staff in on its fate a mere five days before shutdown. With 12 commercial spaces vacant on the South Park loop alone, Harry wonders what landlords are thinking.

Fish Out of WaterLocal restaurants may be bracing themselves for the economic big one, but it's fiesta time for San Diego's Rubio's Baja Grill, which has been a SoCal mainstay for 17 years. On Friday, March 23, Rubio's opened its first branch in the immediate Bay Area (the others are in Santa Rosa and Vallejo). Though its location at the San Francisco Centre is not exactly prime real estate, the amazing quality of Rubio's San Felipe-style fish tacos means boldly going where Harry has not gone before (that would be the food court downstairs). An added bonus for the late night/early morning reveler: Opening hours are 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday. Hangover food, anyone?

Life After Wait ServiceHarry is always encouraged when he hears stories of people in the service industry launching careers outside of food and beverage. Take, for example, Derek Peck, who has been waiting tables locally for more than six years (most recently at Bruno's) and who recently launched a magazine/Web site on planet-mag.com. Or Tim Dale, restaurateur and operations manager at Le Colonial, who is opening his second Yoga Tree location at 1234 Valencia. Of course, those who leave the biz miss out on all those thrilling star sightings: Most recently it was Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne at Boulevard and Barbra Streisand at Postrio. Harry will stick with the glamour of the local foodie life -- for now. Next move: pro wrestling.

 
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