“For 10 months, every day might be our last day.”
That was Adam Sparks’ biggest fear from the first moment the pandemic prompted the state of California to change the rules for restaurants. The owner of Mangia Italiano on Third in Chula Vista knew he’d have to close down if one of his employees contracted the coronavirus.
Sparks dodged that bullet, but he couldn’t outlast the cost of doing business when most of his customers couldn’t sit inside his restaurant.
“We’re tired," Sparks said with a sigh. “I have no more fight left in me.”
Sparks has co-owned the restaurant with his wife, Kathy, for 14 years. During that time, Mangia Italiano hosted everything from wedding parties to Chula Vista City Council candidate debates. The walls of one hallway include pictures of local dignitaries who frequented the restaurant.
As the pandemic dragged on, Sparks took on a leading role for the other small business owners on Third Avenue. They worked together to develop their own no-touch carry-out system, where employees would drop orders off on the hoods of vehicles.
“I made some phone calls," Sparks said. "I tried to get people to pull together a little bit. I talked to business owners.”
Sparks said he was forced to make the decision to close after he and the landlord couldn’t reach an agreement on the rent moving forward. Sparks needed it to decrease because his business has been slashed. However, the landlord insisted on increasing it.
“But they also have to pay bills, right?” Sparks said, shrugging.
Mangia Italiano on Third will serve its last meal Sunday night. Sparks encouraged anyone with outstanding gift certificates to use them this weekend. If not, he said, customers can email him at the restaurant and he will refund money paid for the gift certificates.
The small business owner had to take a few silent moments to himself as he thought about what he will miss most about operating Mangia Italiano. He recalled a time the mayor of Chula Vista hosted a fundraiser for one of his employees who had developed breast cancer.
“To me? That’s Chula Vista,” Sparks said, choking back tears. “It’s that kind of action. It’s that kind of place. That’s Chula Vista.”
Sparks said he and his wife have received several offers to move into other locations along Third Avenue. However, he said, he won’t make any decisions until the pandemic ends.
“I think we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Sparks said. "I just want to make sure it’s not a train before I jump back in.”