Look back at two years of the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes of San Francisco Bay Area hospitality workers
Where were you on March 16, 2020?
For most Californians, it’s a day that may not fade from memory, even with time. On that morning, gathered around televisions or hunched over computer screens attempting to absorb the news, myriad individual pandemic stories began to unspool — in countless ways and physical places, and also all at once. In the 24 months since, those stories have splintered and separated into incalculable experiences of fear and frustration and hope and joy.
No industry has been impacted quite like restaurants, which thrive when people gather and flounder when social interaction becomes hazardous. But despite the loss of thousands of businesses and jobs over the last two years, restaurants and bars are undeniably beginning to rebound, in some ways, stronger and more sustainably than ever. The Bay Area is still far from done with COVID-19, but two years might be enough distance to at least begin to appreciate just how far it has come.
Here are the highs and lows of the past 24 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, as experienced by 11 people from across the Bay Area hospitality industry — from a fine dining chef to a head baker to an East Bay bar owner — as told to Eater SF.
Oakland, 3/20 | San Francisco, 3/20 | Bernal Heights, 3/20 | The Tenderloin, 7/20 | Napa, 9/20 |
St. Helena, 10/20 | Benicia, 10/20 | Bernal Heights, 12/20 |
Benicia, 1/21 | San Francisco, 2/21 | Outer Sunset, 4/21 |
Outer Sunset, 6/21 | The Tenderloin, 7/21 | San Francisco, 10/21 | Milpitas, 10/21 | San Francisco, 12/21 | Milpitas, 1/22 | San Francisco, 1/22 | San Francisco, 2/22 | Oakland, 2/22 “Crashing down before it even started”
Blake Cole, owner of Friends and Family in Oakland
As told to Ray Levy Uyeda
Photo courtesy of Blake Cole
We were fully staffed and ready to open in November 2019, just waiting on the East Bay Municipal Utility District to come to the location to give us a water meter, which is why we were delayed until February 2020 to receive a final inspection. That weekend in March, we had done some private events and the news was coming out, and we were all feeling a little unsure. I remember the day of the inspection; I was sketched out and standing away from everybody but nobody was wearing a mask. One of my landlords was here and said, “Don’t worry about it, this space will be filled by Friday.” I thought, I’m not so sure about that.
We got the final inspection, and I went home and cried out of a feeling of overwhelming bittersweetness because I knew that this was not going to be over in a week.