S.F.’s iconic Cliff House restaurant to permanently shut down

S.F.’s iconic Cliff House restaurant to permanently shut down

SAN FRANCISCO — The city’s venerable Cliff House restaurant, home to renowned views, meals and memories for multiple decades, will close its doors for good at month’s end, its longtime owners said Sunday.

The Cliff House restaurant, which first opened 157 years ago, announced Sunday that the restaurant will close permanently on Dec. 31, a victim both of the COVID-19 pandemic and, its owners say, delay by the National Park Service in reaching a long-term operating contract with the restaurant.

The announcement of the permanent closure was posted Sunday by Cliff House's longtime owners, Dan and Mary Hountalas, on the restaurant's website (www.cliffhouse.com). They said 180 employees will lose their jobs.

In a statement posted to social media, Dan and Mary Hountalas, who have managed the restaurant since 1973, acknowledged the high hurdles the restaurant struggled to vault, including its closure in mid-March due to health orders meant to beat back the COVID-19 pandemic, and a run of takeout and limited delivery services from early June through July 20, when it closed yet again.

The Cliff House ended in-house dining in March, owing to the pandemic. After 10 weeks of offering only takeout service, the restaurant shut down to diners as the pandemic struck. The operators said they attempted to try takeout-only service in early June, but after 10 weeks of that, closed down completely in mid-July, saying the restaurant was losing too much money as a takeout-only operation.

But the couple focused primarily on a federal government agencies failure to negotiate new terms for the restaurant, which has served San Francisco residents and visitors for more than 150 years.

The last long-term contract between Cliff House and the National Park Service expired in June 2018, and the restaurant had been operating until, under a series of short-term contracts, the current one was scheduled to expire on December 31. The owners said on Sunday that COVID-19 exacerbated the problem, but that they would return at the end of 2018 of the last 20-year contract.

"The National Park Service should have selected an operator on a long-term basis to ensure the continued operation of this national treasure," the Hountalases said in their statement Sunday.

“Our 20-year concession contract expired on June 30, 2018; by that time, the National Park Service (NPS) should have selected an operator on a long-time basis to ensure the continued operation of this national treasure,” the couple said. “Since then, the NPS has issued us one six-month and then two one-year concession contract extensions rather than proceed in a timely fashion with their responsibility to execute a new long-term contract or lease.”

The statement closed by asking for help in holding the park service responsible for what it said was “their failures, resulting in the loss of livelihood for 180 employees and their families, as well as the loss of one of San Francisco’s treasured landmarks and the financial loss suffered by those of us local folks who did our best to stay true to this legacy” by e-mailing the NPS at goga_superintendent@nps.gov.

The restaurant had served thousands of customers per year, from hikers and day-trippers dropping in after time with neighborhood natural wonders like the Lands End Trail and Sutro Baths, to Richmond District regulars seeking refreshment, refuge and respite.