The 14-year-old Gracias Madre, at 2211 Mission St. just south of 18th Street, served its last vegan plato Sunday evening, becoming another victim of the pandemic.
By Monday morning, workers at the restaurant known for its plant-based Mexican food were carting leased kitchen equipment out to Mission Street to be picked up. Inside, Mexican music played as workers stacked up unused paper items and disassembled a coffee machine behind the counter. A young boy who declined to talk sat in a chair, looking forlorn and holding a dog on its leash.
“The economy of the city; the money is just not there,” said Joseph Donohue, the general manager.
Gracias Madre, Donohue said, “was making all kinds of money” pre-Covid-19, but it never regained its footing. There would be great weeks, and then nothing, he said, describing business post covid as a “roller coaster.”
When he arrived three years ago, the restaurant had 40 employees, but by Sunday, it was down to four. The business, he said, was so poor that when workers left, he felt no need to replace them. Already, most had been cut back to four days a week.
“Tourism is back in some places,” Donohue said, but on his section of Mission Street, south of 18th Street, “the city failed to pay much attention.”
Look at this, he added, taking a reporter out to the sidewalk to show where a string of street lights the city had put up along Mission Street stopped on the other side of 18th Street. “It doesn’t make any sense to any of us,” he said.
Businesses along the Mission commercial corridor felt short-changed when they looked at efforts on nearby Valencia Street, he said.
Owners Matthew and Terces Englehart opened Gracias Madre in the Mission in late 2009. The Engleharts also owned Cafe Gratitude at Harrison and 20th streets, which they closed in 2014. The Engleharts considered business and spirituality one, and encouraged employees to attend Landmark Forum self-help events.
The chain appeared to flourish. With the Mission location closing, Gracias Madre will still have restaurants in Newport Beach and West Hollywood. Cafe Gratitude has locations in Larchmont, Newport and Venice.
In a message to employees, the Engleharts thanked employees and added, “We are really sad to announce that we can no longer continue this celebration. The economic conditions in the city make it impossible.”
Donohue said it would take up to six months to take down the restaurant and sell the lease and the liquor license to another establishment.
Eleni Balakrishnan contributed to this report.