Design as Destiny
Jean Servais Somian turned to art in times of hardship — and now he’s thriving.
The COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc on the American restaurant industry. According to the National Restaurant Association, almost 100,000 eating places on every level around the country have closed permanently or for the foreseeable future since the pandemic began—everything from the beloved Texas cafeteria chain Luby's to elegant dining rooms run by such culinary luminaries as Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, and José Andrés.
The damage is hardly limited to the U.S., though. Restaurants all over the world, from neighborhood favorites to Michelin-starred temples of gastronomy, have been forced to shutter permanently in recent months—done in by lockdowns, capacity limits, restricted hours, and customer reticence.
Here are some of the most notable examples:
Barcelona: El Gran Café
This Gothic Quarter bistro, founded in 1920, was a tourist favorite for its Catalan specialties and Art Nouveau-style Modernista decor. Business had been tapering off in recent years even before COVID-19, however, and citing the additional deleterious effects of the coronavirus, its owners shuttered it for good in August.
Bordeaux: La Grande Maison
Multi-millionaire wine business mogul Bernard Magrez opened La Grande Maison as an opulent hotel-restaurant in the center of Bordeaux in 2014, with legendary chef Joël Robuchon (since deceased) in charge of the dining room. In 2016, after it had won two Michelin stars, Robuchon decamped, to be replaced by another noted chef, Pierre Gagnaire. In mid-August, both hotel and restaurant closed. "This decision is the result of the global economic and tourist situation linked to the health crisis of COVID-19," reads a statement on the hotel website.
This Michelin-starred Copenhagen favorite, co-owned by internationally acclaimed chef René Redzepi and originally located in the historic building that housed the first iteration of Redzepi's world-famous Noma, went out of business at the end of September. In a statement posted on the restaurant's Facebook page, Redzepi and his partners blamed "the negative consequences of the global pandemic, especially the drastic reduction in number of international tourists visiting Copenhagen…."
Copenhagen: Relæ and Manfreds
Christian Puglisi, the best-known of Copenhagen's "new Nordic" chefs after Redzepi, has announced that these two restaurants, his flagships, will serve their final meals on December 19. Of course, Puglisi told Eater, "my decision had to do with the pandemic"—though not for the obvious reasons. The lockdown, he said, gave him " an absolutely liberating sensation that I could do things I would generally be afraid of." One of those, he added, was closing the restaurants. (He also has three other establishments—Bæst, Mirabelle, and Rudo—which will remain in business.)
London: The Caprice
Originally opened in 1947 and relaunched in 1981, this stylish modern British restaurant just off Piccadilly was a celebrity favorite, hosting everyone from Princesses Diana and Margaret to Charlton Heston and Mick Jagger. The combined effects of Coronavirus-inspired lockdowns and an impending lease renegotiation spelled the end for the place in June. Owner Richard Caring has suggested that it might reopen in another location after the pandemic subsides.
London: Dominique Ansel Bakery and Treehouse
New York-based French pastry chef Ansel, celebrated as the inventor of the Cronut, a doughnut-croissant hybrid, opened an outpost of his bakery in Belgravia in 2016, adding a bakery and bistro called Treehouse in Covent Garden early this year. Both closed at the end of August, a decision made, an Ansel spokesperson said "\in the light of the ongoing restrictions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic."
London: The Greenhouse
Two Michelin stars didn't help this elegant Mayfair restaurant, opened in 1977, avoid the consequences of the pandemic. Announcing its demise on his Instagram page in late June, chef Alex Dilling wrote, "It is with great sadness I confirm the Greenhouse Mayfair will not be reopening."
London: The Ledbury
Another acclaimed Michelin two-star in the British capital, The Ledbury, long considered one of the city's best restaurants, announced in June that it could not reopen under COVID-19 restrictions. "We can't operate the restaurant with any form of social distancing," chef-owner Brett Graham told Eater. "The business model is not viable."
Hong Kong: Rech by Alain Ducasse
This elegant eatery in the InterContinental Hotel, opened by the famed French chef-restaurateur in 2017 and graced with a Michelin star, fell victim in March to one-two punch of the pandemic and the disruption caused by ongoing anti-government protests.
The only branch of this upscale modern Cantonese chain—famous for such dishes as Peking duck with caviar—in China itself closed permanently in April. A statement by the parent company cited "the impact of COVID-19 on our global operations." Branches in San Francisco and New York City have also shuttered.
Tokyo: Shining Moon Tokyo
A culinary offshoot of the popular Sailor Moon fantasy franchise, which encompasses manga comic books, animated features, a live-action TV show, and more, Shining Moon closed temporarily in April in accord with a state of emergency declared by the Japanese government. In July, it announced that the closure would be permanent, as "we have come to the conclusion that it would be difficult to take sufficient measures to protect [sic] the spread of the coronavirus in the environment of the restaurant."
Buenos Aires: Pippo
Founded in 1937, this all-night Buenos Aires institution—known for its literary and entertainment business clientele and its pasta dishes (most famously vermicellis al tuco [a kind of ragù] and pesto)—served its last meal in August. In Argentina, notes the blog Buenos Aires Gourmet, "there is no budget to rescue the ailing culinary sector" and even classics like this one "are victims of the crisis." (A newer Pippo location, dating from 1967, remains open for now.)
Hobart (Australia): Franklin
This innovative restaurant in the capital of Tasmania, opened in 2014, specialized in Tasmanian produce and seafood. Considered one of the best restaurants anywhere in Australia, it became a favorite destination for food-lovers from across the country and beyond. This proved to be its undoing. As co-owner David Moyle told the Australian lifestyle site Broadsheet, "[W]ith a destination restaurant, you're reliant on people driving or flying out to you"—which became impossible under coronavirus restrictions. Franklin closed for good in mid-May.
Burnaby (Canada): The Pear Tree
This 22-year-old fine dining destination in the Vancouver metro area—named the region's best new restaurant when it opened by both Vancouver Magazine and the British Columbia Restaurant Association—closed its doors for good in mid-August. Business had fallen dramatically due to COVID-19, and while revenue began improving in July, the owners say, an impending 40% rent increase made it impossible to continue.
Toronto: Don Alfonso 1890
The original Don Alfonso 1890, which dates its origins back to the year that's part of its name, is a romantic boutique hotel with a Michelin two-star restaurant on Italy's Amalfi Coast. In recent years, the owners have opened outposts of the restaurant in the Italian region of Basilicata, in Macau, and in northeastern New Zealand. In 2018, they added this one in the historic Consumer's Gas Building in Toronto's financial district. The building's owners now want to convert it to condos, however, and according to a release from the restaurant, this factor, "along with the uncertainty of the hospitality industry going forward." led to their decision to close.