According to the owner of the Seal Rock Inn Restaurant, which for 46 years has served a mix of locals and tourists from its perch on Point Lobos Avenue, the establishment will not reopen when the pandemic ends. This is, sadly, not surprising news in itself, as a great many SF standbys may not make it through these days of COVID-19 limbo. But in this case, its owner says, the culprit isn’t the public health crisis, but an unexpected rent hike.
Unlike many restaurants located inside San Francisco hotels, Seal Rock’s restaurant is a separately-owned tenant of the lodgings that rise above it. For the past 46 years, the Elam family has owned the inn, while the Psarras family operated the restaurant below. It’s a spot known for fluffy omelettes and a retro-cool vibe noted by commentators as diverse as Curbed SF and counterculture chronicler Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote in Fear & Loathing On the Campaign Trail ‘72 that the Seal Rock “is the end of the line, for buses and everything else, the western edge of America.”
When San Francisco’s shelter-in-place began in March, the restaurant “tried for ten days to do take-out, but it just didn’t work,” owner Andy Psarras tells Eater SF, and the spot temporarily closed. Hotel owner Larry Elam agreed with their decision to go dark, telling Eater SF via email that “serving breakfast via delivery and/or outdoor dining on a sidewalk did not make sense.”
After he turned the restaurant’s lights off, though, Psarras says he got some poorly-timed news from Elam. “The landlords had told me a while ago about a rent increase, but they never followed through with it” Psarras says, but after the restaurant shut down, “then, bam, [a] 50 percent increase,” he says.
“I told them there was no way to pay with no income,” Psarras says, and after his landlords refused to budge, he had no choice but to close up for good and vacate the premises, he says.
Elam tells Eater SF a slightly different tale, avoiding questions about the rent hike and instead telling Eater SF that Psarras “has decided to discontinue his ownership and operation of the restaurant.” Though its longtime owners are now out of the picture, Elam insists that the restaurant will somehow be revived, but did not provide any details on his plans for the spot.
“We have always been both an inn and a restaurant. Our future plans are to continue as both,” he tells Eater SF. Will it be the same without its longtime stewards at the helm? Add that to the list of questions nobody can yet answer about 2020.
Like Louis’ restaurant, the nearby 83-year-old diner that also announced its permanent closure in recent weeks, the Seal Rock Inn Restaurant represented a rare bit of stubborn coastal constancy in a rapidly changing city. The restaurant (like the hotel) dates back to 1959, and was owned and operated by Andy’s father, Mike, for 30 years before the next generation took over.
It’s a family legacy that’s come to a quiet end, perhaps lost in the shuffle of the multitude of pandemic-related losses and closures. “I had my staff come down to pack up 46 years of memories,” Psarras says of the fanfare-less end to a lifetime serving breakfasts to diners from around the globe — and from just up the street. The way those years of service ended, Psarras says, “was a kick in the you-know-what.”