Many thousands of restaurants around the country close every year, from fast-food outlets to acclaimed fine-dining venues. It’s the nature of the business. Rising rents, legal struggles of various kinds, and changing tastes all take their toll. Other times, proprietors close down because they want to move on to new projects — like other, less demanding restaurants or different lines of work altogether — or they just age out of this strenuous line of work and opt for retirement.
That’s in a normal year. While all these factors might still figure into many of the restaurant closures in 2020, the single most destructive force by far has been, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic (though a few of the places on the list of restaurant closures below closed for unrelated reasons).
Across America, mandated shutdowns or limits on capacity have decimated the restaurant business. Establishments that were able to maintain some semblance of profitability in warmer months through expanded outdoor dining are succumbing to the chill of colder weather. Though the particulars change weekly, this is a recent rundown of the restaurant reopening restrictions in every state.
Even those places that are able to remain open are suffering from a lack of diner confidence. Dining out, especially indoors, just seems too dangerous to many, so they stay home or order food to be delivered (which often costs substantial fees for the restaurants they order from). Whatever other challenges restaurateurs might ordinarily face, the pandemic has made everything worse. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published these considerations for restaurant and bar operators.)
Some of America’s most famous restaurants have fallen victim to the crisis, including the influential K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans, Manhattan’s legendary “21” Club, and the 99-year-old Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles. So have beloved neighborhood standbys that have served their communities for generations, like John’s Famous Stew in Indianapolis (est. 1911) or the Highland Park Cafeteria in Dallas (est. 1935). Newer places run by celebrity chefs aren’t immune either — see McCrady’s in Charleston and Blackbird in Chicago.
Since the pandemic first started raging across the country, 24/7 Tempo has tracked the permanent closures of significant restaurants in every corner of the nation. Most recently, we surveyed the scene in some 26 states and the District of Columbia to assemble a list of the 50 most popular restaurants that have closed permanently due to the pandemic.
Of the hundred-plus establishments we’ve covered, some will be particularly sorely missed — places that set standards of culinary excellence and/or became vital parts of their communities, whether those communities were rural Texas or midtown Manhattan, helping to define and nourish them.
The disappearance of almost any restaurant is an unfortunate occurrence, but these are the year’s saddest examples.