How Tech Companies Disrupted Silicon Valley’s Restaurant Scene
PALO ALTO, Calif. — It was not 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 startup 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 startup 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.”
“在不久的将来，我们了解的这种餐馆就会在当地不复存在，”霍华德·布尔卡(Howard Bulka)说。他是帕洛阿尔托的Howie’s Artisan Pizza店和附近雷德伍德城的另一家餐厅的主厨兼老板。“帕洛阿尔托实在是太艰难了。很多人在想着怎么全身而退，或者是在考虑完全退出餐饮业。”
With razor-thin profit margins, restaurateurs find they can increase wages only so much. Paying a livable wage is a struggle in Palo Alto, where the average one-bedroom apartment rents for $2,800, the same as in New York City, according to Rent Jungle. Workers have also been driven out of surrounding towns that were previously affordable, like Cupertino and San Jose, where demand from a new influx of tech workers has driven up the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment to more than $2,500.
Understaffed “fast casual” restaurants — frozen yogurt, cupcake and tea shops; poké bars; and salad stations where customers order from the counter — have replaced older mom-and-pop restaurants. Other newcomers are well-heeled chains like Nobu, the global sushi empire that announced plans to open a restaurant in Palo Alto, and Sweetgreen, the salad chain startup that has raised $95 million in venture capital funding and can offset the costs of doing business in Palo Alto with sales from its more than 50 other locations.
Not everyone is so fortunate. “We’re competing more for staff than we are for guests at this point,” said Craig Stoll, a James Beard Award-winning chef and co-owner with his wife, Annie Stoll, of Delfina.
并非每个人都有这样的运气。“现阶段，我们更多地是在争夺人手，而不是顾客，”克雷格·斯托尔(Craig Stoll)说。他是拿过詹姆斯·比尔德奖(James Beard Award)的主厨，与妻子安妮·斯托尔(Annie Stoll)一起开设了名为Delfina的餐厅。
The Stolls own four restaurants in San Francisco and two in Silicon Valley — one in Burlingame and the other in Palo Alto. They have not been able to fully staff their Silicon Valley locations since they opened about two years ago. They used to require their line cooks to have particular experience. “Now we’re just selling ourselves on Craigslist, posting pictures of cooks butchering pigs, sautéing, and good-looking waitresses to recruit staff,” Stoll said.
In the last year, the Stolls have lost several of their best servers and their director of operations to Twitter and Airbnb in San Francisco. To compete, the couple have been increasing pay and perks as much as possible, but they say they still often have to close off entire sections of their Silicon Valley restaurants simply because there is not enough staff to service them.
Recently, they have resorted to hiring their 14-year-old daughter and her friends to step in. “We’re breeding our own workforce at this point,” Stoll joked.
Just a few blocks from Pizzeria Delfina in Palo Alto, JC Andrade, an owner of Vino Locale, a family-run wine bar, said his bar lost its previous chef to Facebook. His family increased workers’ pay and now offers a 401(k) program, but Facebook and Google continue to offer his staff higher wages than Andrade said he makes as owner. Increasingly, he said, he has to beg his 15-year-old brother to pick up shifts.
在离帕洛阿尔托的这家Pizzeria Delfina仅几个街区的地方，有一座家庭经营的葡萄酒吧，名为Vino Locale。店主J·C·安德雷德(JC Andrade)表示，之前的主厨跳槽去了Facebook。他们家给员工增加了工资，现在还提供401(k)退休福利计划，可Facebook和谷歌给安德雷德手下员工提供的薪资总是比他自称作为老板挣的钱还多。他表示，自己在越来越多地去请求15岁的弟弟来帮忙轮班。
Last year, Brigette Lau and Chamath Palihapitiya, founders of the venture fund Social Capital, opened Bird Dog, a stylish restaurant downtown. They had backing from other Silicon Valley investors eager to bring a slice of younger, innovative and relatively affordable San Francisco-style cuisine to downtown Palo Alto.
去年，风险基金“社会+资本”合伙公司(Social Capital)的创始人布里盖特·刘(Brigette Lau)与查马斯·帕里哈皮蒂亚(Chamath Palihapitiya)在下城开了一家名为Bird Dog的时髦餐厅。他们拥有其他一些硅谷投资人的支持，这群人热烈期望将新派、创新而又相对物美价廉的旧金山式菜肴带到帕洛阿尔托下城。
But even with Silicon Valley’s backing and their own substantial means — Palihapitiya is part owner of the Golden State Warriors basketball team — Lau said operating a restaurant in Palo Alto was not for the faint of heart.
“I’m supportive of the startup community, but not at the expense of the community,” she said.