San Francisco’s iconic Cliff House restaurant shutting down due to coronavirus pandemic

California
A view of the Cliff House restaurant on October 10, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A view of the Cliff House restaurant on October 10, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco’s iconic Cliff House restaurant that has served tourists and locals for more than a century from atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean is closing its doors at the end of the year.

Dan and Mary Hountalas, the restaurant’s proprietors since 1973, said in a post Sunday on the restaurant’s website they are closing Dec. 31 because of losses brought on by the pandemic and a dispute over renewing their long-term operating contract with the National Park Service.

Built in 1863, the seaside restaurant has been a San Francisco institution and a top tourist attraction and has gone through several transformations. The first modest, wood-frame structure was destroyed in a fire in 1894. It was rebuilt and fashioned after a French chateau that survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake but burned down the following year. The third and present Cliff House, neoclassic in design, was built in 1909.

The National Park Service bought the property in 1977, four years after the Hountalas began leasing it. Their last long-term contract with the Park Service expired in June 2018, and the restaurant had been operating since then under short-term contracts, the couple said.

The Hountalas said the National Park Service should have selected an operator on a long-term basis “to ensure the continued operation of this national treasure.”

“This is certainly not the way to thank us, a local small business owned and operated by native San Franciscans, for taking care of this San Francisco treasure this past year at a significant financial loss,” they said.

The couple said 180 employees will lose their jobs and they encouraged customers to show their support by sending an email to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s superintendent.

Officials with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area did not immediately answer an email seeking comment Monday.

The Cliff House first closed in March due to the pandemic. It reopened in June to offer takeout service but closed again after 10 weeks because of “unbearable losses.”

“It costs tens of thousands of dollars every month to maintain and guard the massive Cliff House building,” the couple wrote.

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