Over 75 new restaurants have opened in San Diego alone since the pandemic began -- a sign of hope after almost two years of repeated closures and layoffs dealt an especially devastating blow to the industry.
Little Italy’s Burgeon at the Arbor was slated to open in 2020, but the pandemic had other plans.
The taproom and restaurant had a soft opening in April 2021 but had to enforce full COVID-19 restrictions as the state of California had not reopened yet.
The eatery finally held its grand opening Saturday.
General manager Kenon Nibbs told NBC 7 this moment means so much more since COVID-19 restrictions like social distancing and mask-wearing don’t have to be enforced anymore.
“We were packed, we had lines out the door,” he said.
The 20-year restaurant industry veteran was laid off a job during the pandemic but said he doesn’t have any hard feelings because that’s what led him here.
“It allowed me to come on board, and it's been a blessing ever since…and it's been an honor to be able to do this from the ground up, just literally building it from the inside out,” he said.
Burgeon at the Arbor now joins Burgeon Beer Company’s two other locations in Carlsbad and Escondido – a location that also opened during the pandemic.
Although times have been hard for the restaurant industry since March 2020, restaurant openings are on the rise again across the country but viewed through the lens of pre-pandemic openings data, the renaissance looks more like a slow recovery.
More than 79,438 U.S. restaurants closed permanently during the pandemic but better days are coming, according to the National Restaurant Association 2021 State of the Industry Report.
Nibbs said despite not having to follow COVID-19 restrictions anymore, he and other managers still face a fair share of challenges, including staffing shortages and maintaining strict safety protocols, especially as COVID-19 case rates start to surge again.
He said he’s currently trying to fill four positions – two in the kitchen and two in the dining room.
“We want everybody to feel safe when they come in here…and it's tough, there’s definitely a shortage. Our staff is so great and they want to continue to work six days, 10-hour days like today…they’re proud to work for this team,” he said, adding that after over a year of ups and downs, a day like Saturday was worth the wait.
“The biggest reward is just seeing everybody's smiling faces, without the masks…I’m just really stoked to be a part of this team and can’t wait to see what we can continue doing,” he said.