For many of us, food was our foundation through the roller coaster of 2020, from building a comforting wall of beans to baking bread. And yet, very few of Eater San Francisco’s biggest stories this year involved food in the traditional, “here is an exciting restaurant opening” sense. Instead, readers flocked to our pages to see if they’d be allowed to dine at all — and how to do so, safely.
We hope we helped get you through the year, by providing up-to-date reporting on the latest in local regulations, letting you know how to help fight hunger in the Bay Area, and still keeping you posted on the most thrilling openings, delicious dishes, and unexpected dining experiences around. Thank you for reading Eater SF. We can’t wait to tell even more of the Bay Area’s food stories next year.
Now let’s get into it:
A lot of folks were laid off as a result of the pandemic’s impact on businesses large and small, but the news that San Francisco-based online review site Yelp’s business was suffering seemed to capture eater readers’ attention the most. The word schadenfreude certainly comes to mind at a moment like this, even though it was Yelpers (not the company’s workers) that did loathsome things like posting reviews criticizing local restaurants for enforcing mask policies.
It was a time when absolutely everything seemed to be going wrong, from a deadly disease to a set of fires so bad that much of California’s air was unbreathable. Maybe that’s why the triumph of Vacaville resident Chad Little, who when the water was shut off used cans of Bud Light to fight one of the state’s worst-ever fires, delighted readers so.
Back in April, when this story was written, we still knew very little about how COVID-19 was transmitted. (In the beginning, as you might recall, people were told not to wear masks.) Fears abounded that takeout containers might transmit the disease, and folks were told to scrub down their groceries. Of course, we now know the damnable truth that it’s breathing around other human beings, not sashimi, that poses the greatest coronavirus risks.
It wasn’t until mid-April that San Francisco had a mask mandate, and though restaurants reopened for sit-down dining in SF on June 12, it took city officials until July to detail the rules around face coverings when eating out. In language that frustrated restaurant owners, the city made it clear that it was on restaurants to enforce the rules, which require diners to mask up when servers approach. Despite that law, a spin through restaurant Instagram or your local paper shows that few diners comply.
For a few, brief weeks, it seemed like things were close to normal again. San Francisco allowed restaurants to reopen dining rooms at 25 percent capacity on September 30, but six weeks later, as COVID-19 case rates continued to spike, restaurants were forced to revert to outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery. At the time, state and local officials said that those new restrictions would probably be the extent of the rollback, but within days, the region would be under a curfew, and shortly after that, even more restrictions were on the horizon.
When Bay Area health officials announced the region’s initial shelter-in-place order, they repeatedly said that people need not — and should not — rush to grocery stores to hoard staples and supplies. People, however, had other plans, running through Costco like some boss-level version of Supermarket Sweep, crowding the aisles at Safeway, and leaving the shelves of Whole Foods bare. We’re now a nation of people who, at the first sign of trouble, will stock up on — or buy stock in — toilet paper and beans.
#4: At Least 19 Wineries, Restaurants, and Resorts Have Been Destroyed or Damaged by the Glass Incident Fire
Unlike some of this year’s fires, the Glass Incident Fire wasn’t even in the top 20 of the state’s largest blazes. But the destruction it wrought was some of the most significant to Eater readers, as it damaged or destroyed at least 31 of Napa Valley’s wineries, restaurants, and lodges, including lauded fine-dining destination Meadowood and St. Helena’s White Sulphur Springs, the oldest resort in the state.
Way back in May, officials prepared to reopen restaurant dining rooms with a set of regulations that focused (like item number 8, above) on the supposed dangers posed by surfaces like tabletops or menus touched by more than one person. If restaurants did things like remove tablecloths from tables between each customer, “transported from dining areas in sealed bags,” they could safely operate, Governor Gavin Newsom said at the time. It would be six months before dining rooms reopened in SF, and six weeks after that they’d be shut down again.
It feels almost quaint from where we’re sitting now, doesn’t it? When the Bay Area first announced its shelter-in-place order, which shut down restaurants for everything but takeout, shuttered all non-essential retail, and prohibited a slew of other activities, the message was that it could be lifted as soon as April 7. By the end of March, officials said that to be safe, we should probably extend the order to May 3, which was perhaps the first indication Bay Area restaurants and diners had that this wasn’t an issue that would be resolved in a few weeks’ time.
As the state of California approached the holidays, its COVID-19 case rate was worse than ever before. As a result, Newsom announced a new, regional stay-at-home order predicated on the availability of intensive care unit beds in hospital networks across the state, one that requires restaurants to close sit-down dining. A day later, the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and the city of Berkeley announced that they would voluntarily enter the stay-at-home order early in an effort to slow the surge. Two weeks later, the rest of the region joined them. The earliest the region might reopen is January 8, but as of this writing, officials say that the shutdown will likely continue beyond that date.