About 12 years ago, chef Gerard Nebesky faced off against Bobby Flay for an episode of the celebrity chef’s Throwdown series. But while Nebesky’s paella was excellent enough to leave Flay’s in the dust, it appears that it wasn’t powerful enough to beat the problems facing businesses in Santa Rosa’s downtown area, as his restaurant in the area will close after 18 months in business.
Nebesky opened Gerard’s Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa in June of 2018. It seemed like the right move at the right time, as Nebesky’s longstanding catering business was juggling about 200 bookings per year, and at that year’s Bottle Rock Food, Wine, and Music fest, his stand did more business than another on-site outlet. For his first permanent location, Nebesky chose Santa Rosa’s Fourth Street, which to the naked eye seems like a picturesque, character-laden example of a small-town California business district.
Nebesky soon learned that all was not as it appeared in downtown Santa Rosa, saying in a statement that as of February 3, his restaurant will close, the victim of “restrictive parking and a burgeoning homeless population,” as well as a lack of assistance from city government.
“The city simply doesn’t put out any money to support us,” Nebesky says. “There weren’t even any holiday decorations up around the Plaza before Christmas. It just doesn’t feel like a welcoming place — and that’s a shame because Santa Rosans are lovely people.”
It’s a complaint that’s been echoed by a number of other area bars and restaurants, the Santa-Rosa Press Democrat reported last December. In recent months, other businesses in the downtown area that have been forced to shutter include the Jade Room Wine Bar & Oysterette, Stout Brothers, Mercato, Tex Wasabi’s, La Vera Pizza, and 2 Tread Brewing Co.
Gerard’s Paella Y Tapas got some buzz last summer when Nebesky’s role as birthday planner for SNL star Rachel Dratch was linked to Netflix’s girl-trip comedy Wine Country (and memories of his Stinson Beach standoff with Flay surely didn’t hurt). But Nebesky says that while “people love our food...there is just not enough of them in this part of town.”
Nebesky first said that he expected to close his restaurant last November, telling the Press Democrat then that “it is such a battle downtown,” and that he was putting $5,000 per week into the restaurant to keep it afloat. By December, he’d said that he might not close after all, then telling the P-D that Paella Y Tapas was hanging in there, as he believed that city officials and local developers were making an effort to draw downtown crowds. “There’s good stuff on the horizon,” Nebesky said in early December. “We just may not have the staying power.”
That staying power appears to have run out. Nebesky announced today that while his catering business will continue as usual, from this Wednesday, January 29, through February 2, diners should expect “blow-out paella specials,” and there will be a final party on February 3 to close things out. As Nebesky’s lease on the Paella Y Tapas space remains active, he’ll also host the occasional pop-up or special event, and will participate in Sonoma County Restaurant Week (Feb. 21–March 1, 2020).
But don’t expect Paella Y Tapas to reopen — at least, not without changes to parking laws (meters in Santa Rosa run until 8 p.m., which Nebesky says gives diners “anxiety”) and an increased police presence to make visitors feel safer. “I’m done with these battles,” Nebesky said in December. “I would rather do it somewhere else.”