Oh 2020. You came hurtling into our lives like a rabid animal. Who knew something so microscopically small could force the entirety of the planet to its knees? The world as we knew it was forever changed, and we’ll likely still experience those changes for years to come. Between the lonely lockdowns, the quiet quarantining, and a whole slew of hard workers losing their careers seemingly overnight, 2020 was a 365-day window no one wants to repeat. The coronavirus managed to severely cripple industries that weren’t prepared to take such a disastrous blow, and one of the hardest hit was the restaurant world. The culinary landscape saw devastation like never before, and all over the world heartbroken chefs and their kitchen staffs turned off their ovens and closed their doors for good.
In the attempt to curb the spread of the virus, eateries had no other choice than to suspend service. Some spots managed to work out negotiations with landlords and government programs to ensure they would, at some point, open back up their doors and welcome guests again. However, luck wasn’t on the sides of everyone who attempted to seek such help, and many hard decisions were forced upon people who spent years building their culinary dream from the ground up.
This is a list of some of the most iconic restaurants in the country that sadly bid a forever farewell to their customers courtesy of the coronavirus. But, they’ll forever live on in our appetites.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen (New Orleans, LA)
It’s no secret New Orleans is a hub of incredible cuisine. You’d be hard-pressed not to find it on nearly every "Top 10 Cities to Eat" list. Whether you’re looking for some hearty soul food or want to dive head-first into some Cajun-spiced seafood, New Orleans has all your bases covered. However, a place with a culinary landscape so rich also meant it was one of the hardest hit with the pandemic. Sadly, one of the most iconic restaurants in the city, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, failed to survive the Covid onslaught, and it was forced to close its doors forever after serving up incredible food for 41 years.
Executive Chef Paul Prudhomme opened K-Paul’s with his wife in 1979, and almost immediately people took to the food. Thanks to Prudhomme’s first cookbook printed in the early 1980s, Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, the world was introduced to the blackening of proteins. K-Paul’s also holds the title as the first ever pop-up restaurant. The eatery was so astonishingly successful that Prudhomme and his staff would take it on the road for months at a time, and in every city he went, there were lines around the block eager to try his delicious Louisiana cooking. There are, of course, still a vast number of places to snag authentic shrimp creole or jambalaya throughout New Orleans, but any loyal K-Paul’s customer would likely tell you they just don’t hold up to Prudhomme’s culinary wizardry.
Plum Tree Inn (Los Angeles, CA)
One of the great things talented chefs offer guests is the chance to try authentic foreign dishes without having to actually travel outside the United States. You don’t have to book an expensive vacation to Italy if you’re craving top-notch pasta. And you certainly won’t have to schlep across the border to Mexico to bask in some of the greatest Mexican dishes ever concocted. That’s what made Los Angeles’ Plum Tree Inn such a fantastic destination. Located in LA’s Chinatown, patrons didn’t have to travel overseas to snag authentic Chinese cuisine, which was why so many people were devastated when the coronavirus wiped it off the map.
For 40 years, president and owner Mark Ting put smiles on the faces of everyone who graced the dining room. The Szechuan specialties (including authentic Peking Duck, which is extremely difficult to find) were so popular that additional locations sprang up. However, Ting was forced to issue the following statement after realizing his brainchild wouldn’t make through the pandemic: "Our dedicated staff, loyal customers and the Chinatown and downtown communities have been the backbone of our restaurant’s success and we appreciate all of the support everyone has shown us over the past 40 years. It is with a heavy heart to announce that with these uncertain times, we have made the difficult decision to close our doors permanently. We are incredibly grateful to have shared so many wonderful memories with each one of you."
Blackbird (Chicago, IL)
Opening an eatery is one of the riskiest ventures you can embark on. That’s what makes Michelin-rated spots all the more amazing. The owners riskily dump unfathomable amounts of money into every minor detail to make for a dining experience they hope lands them in the upper echelons of fine dining. But, all the money in the world doesn’t solve a restaurant-ravaging pandemic, and Chicago’s Michelin-rated Blackbird was an extraordinarily unique spot that fell victim to the chaos.
Blackbird’s dining room and kitchen were small and intimate, which made them the perfect places for a virus to quickly spread. Paul Kahan was just one of the many talented chefs who worked there over the years serving contemporary American cuisine with a healthy dash of French influence. Guests as famous as Barack Obama and Michael Jordan even enjoyed meals there. When Kevin Boehm, co-founder of Illinois’ Boka Restaurant Group, learned of the closing, he posted a heartfelt message on Instagram: "It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Blackbird to Chicago’s current dining scene. In 22 years it never lost its relevance or its cool…. and inspired many young Chefs and Restaurateurs, I know it did me. The restaurant world has taken quite a few hits the last few months, but this one is a Joe Frazier left hook….devastating. Love you."
Uncle Boons (New York, NY)
It’s often difficult to find great Thai food outside of metropolitan areas. There just isn’t the same demand for Pad Thai or Massaman curry in small, rural towns. But, when you step foot into a place like New York City, you don’t have to look hard to find an amazing Thai restaurant and the quality at many of them rival anything in Thailand. Uncle Boons, a popular Nolita spot started by chefs Ann Redding and Matt Danzer in 2013, earned a Michelin star in 2015 and upheld the accolade every year after. However, due to a dispute with the building’s landlord when Covid struck, Uncle Boons abruptly made its way to the dreaded chopping block.
The chefs issued this farewell statement: "We are so grateful for the accolades and nominations; however, they are meaningless without the people who make a restaurant work and who make guests want to come back. We — a small, family-owned business — are no more immune to the realities that threaten restaurants, than any other shop. Despite our good standing, we were not able to reach a manageable agreement with our landlord that takes into account the complexities of running a restaurant under the limitations of COVID-19."
However, the chefs do have another restaurant called Uncle Boons Sister that still remains open for takeout and delivery. It’s just a shame the star of the show couldn’t hang around.
Here’s Looking At You (Los Angeles, CA)
Even though Here’s Looking At You sounds like a Casablanca-themed eatery, megafans of classic film star Humphrey Bogart would be disappointed to find out it definitely was not that. But, people who made the trek looking for amazing food were more than delighted. Owners Lien Ta and Jonathan Whitener served amazing Korean food at this spot that exploded in popularity thanks to dishes like smoked beef tongue, carrot curry, and blood cake. The place even snagged a spot on the coveted "Eater’s Essential 38" list. Unfortunately, the pandemic proved too much stress to keep the doors open, and Ta and Whitener reluctantly admitted defeat during an interview with Eater.
Ta explained the struggles of working in a small cramped space when a spreadable virus was on the loose: "The takeout model just wasn’t working. I do not see a safe way to reopen dining rooms and continue with full service. And if we can’t operate the way that we used to, sustain the way that we used to, I don’t know how else to do this." Money was also a huge issue, as well. "We don’t have enough money to pay rent," Ta said before further adding, "Rent deferral is just not an option. We will fail regardless, if that’s the case."
John’s Famous Stew (Indianapolis, IN)
There’s nothing better on a cold winter night than a hot bowl of rich soup to permeate your marrow and leave your soul nestled inside a warm cocoon of appetite pleasure. Heck, a well-made stew is always welcomed regardless of the weather, which was why John’s Famous Stew was such a popular Indianapolis spot. It was started in 1911 by Macedonian brothers who wanted to share the cast-iron kettle beef stew their mother made back in their homeland. The most recent owner, Mary Caito, took over for her father who purchased the business in 1975 from the brothers. No one could have predicted such a beloved spot would see its end of days in 2020.
On the company’s website, customers were left with this heartfelt message from Mary after the official closing: "It is with a heavy heart I share that we will not be reopening. It has been our pleasure serving you over the past 40 plus years. Thank you for all the memories. This was an enormous decision on my part. I am really hoping a new passionate buyer has the excitement that my dad had for it his whole life, and keeps making the stew and foods so that people continue to enjoy it."
Fingers crossed someone with an intricate plan to revitalize the business steps up ready to sling stew in a way that prevents the spread of Covid. Everyone needs a hearty helping of something soul-warming right now.
Oatley’s Restaurant (North Kingstown, RI)
The coronavirus had no criteria when it came to which restaurants it punted into oblivion. Whether it was a huge national chain with all the money in the world to throw its way in hopes of staying open, or the mom-and-pop places ingrained in the fabric of their hometowns, becoming a potential victim was unavoidable. This is why the closing of Oatley’s in Rhode Island was especially devastating. For 44 years, the Oatley family proudly served locals and tourists great cuisine, and their all-day-breakfast was a special draw that regulars were always fond of. This familial legacy made the closing much harder on each member.
The most recent owner, Vaughn Oatley, shared both sentiments and frustration in an interview. "It’s very bittersweet, and sad. I’ve now run the restaurant longer than my father. But it comes down to this, do I take my retirement savings and put it into the restaurant? I’m 55 years old, I don’t have that much time to make it up again." Interestingly, Vaughn admitted he would pursue a different venture after Oatley’s, proudly stating, "I’m a farmer at heart." The Facebook posting about the official closing also had this positive message for their customers: "Please feel free to share any good memories of Oatley’s!"
Vickie’s Diner (Las Vegas, NV)
If you were the kind of person who loved to take a roulette and blackjack-filled trip to Las Vegas as often as possible, then it’s more than likely you brushed elbows with (or even ate at) Vickie’s Diner. It was one of the oldest diners in Las Vegas, so even seasoned Vegas veterans would likely remember the name. In fact, the pharmacy that housed the diner, White Cross Drugs, reportedly saw the likes of Rat Pack members and Elvis Presley during its heyday. Vickie Kelesis, the most recent owner, changed the name from Tiffany’s to Vickie’s when she took over in 2014, but the clientele never dwindled. The building’s landlord, unfortunately, ordered the entire operation to leave due to Covid.
"It’s a place we visit once a week to have lunch or dinner. The people who work here are very friendly. You can see them cooking and it’s an old fashion diner. That’s what’s fun about it," said Barbara Giachetto, a loyal customer who took her grandchildren there for the last decade. Of course, no one who ever dined at Vickie’s could forget the odd art on the wall known only as "That Painting." There are murmurs Vickie’s may open in a different location, but as of right now, it’s simply all hopeful speculation.
Brookville Hotel (Abilene, KS)
The history of Brookville Hotel stretches back over a century, which was why it was so rooted in the culture of its hometown. It was originally called the Cowtown Cafe, and it’s reputation for great food began in 1894 after Gus and Mae Magnuson took over. Mae’s cooking drew crowds from the surrounding area, but in 1915, the couple’s daughter, Helen, introduced "Family Style Chicken Dinners" and business quickly exploded. The chicken dinners were especially a hit with World War II soldiers returning home. Sadly, this Kansas spot known for some of the best fried chicken around couldn’t keep its head above the choppy Covid waters.
Fourth-generation owners Mark and Connie Martin left the following message on the hotel’s Facebook page thanking everyone for their support over the years: "It is with a very heavy heart that we must announce that the Covid, and the lack of traffic has forced us to close. We hung on as long as we could, but the writing was on the wall. We would like to thank everyone for your patronage of the Brookville Hotel over the last 125 years that the Martin family has operated it. Mark is grieving over this decision and the fate of our employees. Please keep him and them in your prayers. We have been a part of so many family celebrations over the years and we will miss you all. Thank you for making us part of your families."
Blue Smoke / Jazz Standard (New York, NY)
Before Covid struck like lightning, one of the best parts of New York City was the sheer amount of places you could order a fancy cocktail and relax to some smooth music played live in a small and intimate setting. For almost two decades, Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard — two establishments that merged together in 2002 — offered patrons Southern-inspired cuisine cloaked in an intimate environment emanating with the soft and soulful sounds of live jazz music. The food was so exquisite that, according to Eater, "helped spur a barbecue renaissance" throughout the Big Apple. But, the groovy tunes and romantic atmosphere tragically fell victim to the worldwide Covid pandemic.
An emotion-packed message on the social media pages read, "We have explored every avenue to arrive at a different outcome, but due to the pandemic and months without revenue—as well as a lengthy rent negotiation that has come to a standstill—we’ve reached the disappointing conclusion that there is no alternative but to close Blue Smoke Flatiron and Jazz Standard. We can’t begin to express how incredible it has been to make so many lasting friendships in both the barbecue and jazz communities throughout the last two decades. Those relationships live on."
Anyone who loved to kick back and relax to some smooth piano music while sipping a dirty martini was left with one less spot to make their own.