How Tech Companies Disrupted Silicon Valley’s Restaurant Scene
The restaurant business is simply being destroyed, which in my view is a cost to the public. Nicole Perlroth reports in the NY Times:
PALO ALTO, Calif. — It wasn’t so long ago that the aroma of Moroccan spiced prawns and wood-oven pizzas wafted out to a downtown street here from the open-air patio of a once popular eatery called Zibibbo.
Today that patio is behind locked doors, obscured by frosted glass. The pizza oven is gone. The formerly crowded bar has been converted into a sparsely populated start-up space of a dozen engineers, their bikes and whiteboards. After 17 years in operation, the restaurant closed in 2014. The space is now an American Express venture capital office and a start-up incubator.
All told, more than 70,000 square feet of Palo Alto retail and restaurant space were lost to office space from 2008 to 2015, as the tech bubble drove demand for commercial space downtown.
It is a story playing out across Silicon Valley, where restaurateurs say that staying afloat is a daily battle with rising rents, high local fees and acute labor shortages. And tech behemoths like Apple, Facebook and Google are hiring away their best line cooks, dishwashers and servers with wages, benefits and perks that restaurant owners simply cannot match.
Silicon Valley technologists love to explain how they have disrupted the minutiae of daily life, from our commutes to the ways we share family photos. But along the way, they have also managed to disrupt their local restaurant industry.
That may not be an issue for tech workers with access to free, farm-fresh cuisine in corporate cafeterias, but for everyone else here it is leaving a void between the takeout cuisine popping up around Palo Alto — picture bento boxes ordered on iPads at a counter — and $500 meals at high-end restaurants.
“Restaurants as we know them will no longer exist here in the near future,” said Howard Bulka, a chef and owner of Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Palo Alto and another restaurant in nearby Redwood City. “Palo Alto is just too tough a row to hoe. A lot of people are looking into getting out in one piece or are thinking of leaving the business entirely.” . . .