Cliff House owners shutting down for good

Longtime operators blame COVID-19 pandemic, failed lease negotiations with National Park Service

The Cliff House restaurant, which first opened 157 years ago, announced Sunday that the restaurant will close permanently on Dec. 31, a victim both of the COVID-19 pandemic and, its owners say, delays by the National Park Service in reaching a long-term operating contract with the restaurant.

The announcement of the permanent closure was posted Sunday by Cliff House’s longtime owners, Dan and Mary Hountalas, on the restaurant’s website. They said 180 employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closure.

The Cliff House ended in-house dining in March, owing to the pandemic. The operators said they attempted to try takeout-only service in early June, but after 10 weeks of that, closed down completely in mid-July, saying the restaurant was losing too much money as a takeout-only operation.

The last long-term contract between the Cliff House and the National Park Service expired in June 2018, and the restaurant had been operating since then under a series of short-term contracts, the current one of which is set to expire on Dec. 31. The owners said Sunday that COVID-19 has exacerbated the problems, but that they go back to the 2018 expiration of the last 20-year contract.

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

The announcement caused such a strong response that the Cliff House web site crashed Sunday night.

“There is already such an outpouring of sadness and love coming our way,” the Hountalases said on Facebook. “We thank all of you for your support — now and over the years. And we love all of you too!”

The closure of the Cliff House comes months after the announcement in July that the nearby Louis’ Restaurant, a beloved diner that overlooked the Sutro Baths, would also close permanently after more than 80 years of business.

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