A.J. Sanchez, the owner of two popular restaurants in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, died on July 24 at the age of 53. He is survived by his wife, Amanda Orloff, who confirmed to the SF Chronicle that Sanchez took his own life. Prior to his death he had been struggling with depression, Orloff said, especially as his businesses accrued financial losses over the course of the coronavirus crisis.
Born and raised in Monterey, Sanchez was a neighborhood fixture around Fisherman’s Wharf over the course of the eight years since he and Orloff opened their first dining establishment, Carmel Pizza Company, there in 2012, parking a big red pizza trailer outside the Jones Street restaurant. He was known for his warmth and his generous smile — and, as Orloff told the Chron, for “the brightest and tightest cycling outfits” that he would wear when riding his bicycle along the Wharf. According to a statement posted on Carmel Pizza Company’s Instagram account he “had a heart of gold, a personality that was larger than life, and a healthy appetite for adventure.”
Speaking to ABC7, Orloff described Sanchez as “a loving, caring person — somebody who wanted to bring something unique to the Wharf.” Indeed, the couple’s two restaurants — the wine bar/Italian deli Altalena Vinoteca and especially Carmel Pizza Company, known for its 900-degree oven and well-blistered margherita pies — have long been viewed as beacons of tasty, reasonably priced food amid the neighborhood’s numerous tourist traps.
That success was no shield against the challenges of the pandemic, however, and as business at Carmel Pizza Co. continued to see a 90-percent drop as recently as one month ago, Sanchez’s struggles with his mental health worsened.
“It’s unfortunate now I see how much support there was around him, and he couldn’t see it,” Orloff told the Chron. “It saddens me.”
Sanchez’s death underscores a growing mental health crisis in this country that has been greatly exacerbated by the isolation and financial stresses of the coronavirus pandemic. A Washington Post report on the pandemic’s mental health effects cites a recent poll indicating that nearly half of Americans say the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health — and notes that “a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year.” And the New York Times reports that while suicide rates have been rising for the past two decades, they roughly doubled during 2008’s steep economic downturn.
Orloff, for her part, tells ABC7 that she’ll try to honor Sanchez’s legacy by keeping his restaurants going, including building a new outdoor dining area at Carmel Pizza Company that’s slated to open this weekend.
“I think that if he is looking down he would be very proud of the start of it. It’s not finished. It’s for him,” Orloff says.
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.