Coronado resident David Spatafore didn’t grow up dreaming of owning one restaurant, let alone running a diverse collection of eateries, but he was drawn to the industry because of the creativity and flexibility it offered. “I love that every day is different,” he comments. He started Blue Bridge Hospitality on a sweet note when he opened MooTime Creamery in 1998. Since then, he has gone on to open Village Pizzeria (on Orange Ave and Bayside), Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge, Stake Chophouse, Little Frenchie, and most recently Boardwalk Beach Club; as well as others along the way. He also branched out of Coronado when he opened Liberty Public Market in Point Loma in 2016, the first venue of its kind in San Diego.
Things were cruising into spring and gearing up for the summer rush when COVID-19 hit, and everything abruptly changed. “I thought it was a fun ride up until March,” he says as he vividly remembers March 20. “I couldn’t even be in the restaurant at that point, because it was too emotional, handing out final paychecks, and not knowing what the future held. We worked hard to build this up over the past 20 years, and I didn’t know at that point if we would be able to survive, or lose everything.”
“The beginning was crazy, with such short notice to close. It all unraveled quickly and seemed to change every 24 hours. We had no idea where the world was headed, not knowing if this was a pause for days, weeks, months, or a complete forever shutdown. We quickly organized, completed the myriad of employee termination paperwork, and started our takeout food program.”
Little Frenchie was selected as the hub for their takeout food, because it had the easiest accessibility. They brought the chefs from Leroy’s, Stake, and Frenchie together to offer freshly-made, prepared food for guests to pick up and enjoy at home.
Not knowing how long the pandemic would last, they also focused on using up their supplies and inventory. “We appreciate the community support, as we quickly adapted to what the needs were, even for basic supplies like toilet paper, flour, eggs, yeast, wine, etc.” He laughs when he says that at the beginning, they were selling more eggs than anything else, because they were so hard to find in stores. He also points out that due to the demand, egg prices skyrocketed from $20 to $60 a case almost overnight.
With the loss of the majority of his staff, his whole family stepped in to help. He says that from the first day, his wife, son, and daughter, who graduated from CHS this year, and other family members, worked nonstop for two months. “It was all hands on deck, in constant motion, doing whatever it took, to make things work in this new reality,” he emphasizes.
All of his restaurants have now reopened, with the exception of Boardwalk Beach Club, because, as he says, “that venue was based on social interactions, everything we are not supposed to do now.” Being the largest space, with the highest rent, he is not sure what the future holds for the eatery that had only opened two months prior to the shutdown and was designed to let people eat, drink and play together.
“We have been very vigilant about following all the mandated health precautions, because I don’t want to go back to where we were in March,“ he says. They have had to forgo many of the little niceties, like fabric tablecloths, candles, flowers, and condiments on the tables. The restaurants are now staffed with a mix of former and new employees, who are all adjusting to the new regulations together. He encourages all businesses to strictly follow the safety precautions, because he knows they couldn’t make it through a second shutdown. “I don’t feel that everyone understands the gravity and reality of the situation,” he comments. “Our rent, utilities, and other bills didn’t go away, they were just deferred, and times are still very difficult.”
He gives credit to the Federal Government for offering PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funding and the nimble thinking of the State of California. He said that the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) allowing “to go” cocktails was a great incentive. He emphasizes, “As bad as it has been, it could have been even worse.” The City of Coronado stepped in with loans for small businesses and is allowing additional outdoor sidewalk dining. He highlighted the progressiveness of the Port in forgiving partial rent to help businesses weather this storm.
It still scares him to think of missing the usual summer windfall that tourists bring. Even after reopening, they are barely at fifty percent of their usual capacity, with flexible hours, as they try to get back to normal. He is hoping that the reopening of The Del and people wanting to enjoy the beach will bring more business back to Coronado. MooTime Creamery has been open throughout this time, but with a much smaller percentage of people than the usual spring and summer months usually bring. Customers clamor for the ever popular MooPie homemade ice cream cookies and MooTacos. MooTime opens daily at 11 am and closing time depends on customers at this point in time. Village Pizzeria is open at 11 am, with both takeout and patio dining available, and pizza and garlic knots are always favorites.
Leroy’s Kitchen received an interior and menu update, but he says that the mouthwatering burger still remains their most popular item. Friends and I recently tried the tasty falafel plate and soba noodle salad and will definitely be going back. Oysters and lobster rolls are also proving a hit with diners. Live music has started again, but he points out that people need to realize that they can’t get up and dance, and must maintain social distancing. Leroy’s opens at 11 am Monday through Friday, with brunch starting at 9 am on Saturday and Sunday. Little Frenchie opens at 11 am Monday through Thursday, with Le Brunch served from 9 am Friday through Sunday. Extended patio seating offers an enjoyable dining experience, as guests enjoy onion soup gratinée, Benedicts, Frenchie dips and a host of other French-themed dishes.
At Stake Chophouse, the need for fewer patrons on the small patio to comply with social distancing requirements is certainly having an impact, but they are able to feature live music again. Curtains have been placed between the tables inside for separation and they’ve implemented a myriad of additional safety precautions. The restaurant opens at 4 pm, and patrons can enjoy a variety of flavorful entrees and sides, including the finest sourced Prime and above beef, as well as fresh Alaskan halibut.
During lockdown and even continuing now, BBH has been fortunate to have many customers step in to buy dinner for local healthcare providers, and they have delivered thousands of lunches and dinners to Sharp Coronado, Sharp Chula Vista, and Sharp Grossmont Hospitals’ staff. “As we transitioned and opened each restaurant, we looked at them individually, so we could anticipate how to accommodate the new rules,” he says. David feels that opening slowly was the right way to do it. “We’re not sure what the future holds, but I’m optimistic.”