The longtime operators of the iconic Cliff House, the Hountalas family, have made a dramatic announcement to the press that the restaurant is closing "permanently" — however it seems more likely that there will be a changing of the guard with the restaurant's management once it manages to be revived, post-pandemic.
Dan and Mary Hountalas, who are in or nearing their 80s and have run the Cliff House since 1973, have made a number of announcements in recent years about the fate of the restaurant, with the latest placing the blame on its fate on the federal government and the National Park Service (NPS) for failing to reach a favorable long-term contract deal with them. In 2018 and again in 2019, when their operating contract for the restaurant was again up for renewal, there was rumbling about possible fresh blood getting to take over the place, and now they announced on Facebook and on their website — which has since gone offline — "NPS Forces Closure of the Cliff House!" and "This is certainly not the way to thank us, a local small business owned and operated by native San Franciscans, for taking care of this San Francisco treasure this past year at a significant financial loss."
While the announcement may be part of an ongoing negotiation, for now the Hountalases say that, like Louis' diner up the road — which has similarly been run for decades by some cousins of theirs — The Cliff House is kaput.
They further foresee that this closure will mean that the beloved tourist attraction "will be boarded up and fenced in for several years. ... Realistically, we are looking at two to three years of a closed facility."
The restaurant reopened for takeout and delivery earlier this year, only to close again in July. The Hountalases say that the closure will mean that on December 31, 180 people will lose their jobs — however it seems likely that the majority of those employees have been furloughed or were laid off many months ago.
The Hountalases last contract with the NPS expired in June 2018, and they have been operating on a series of short-term contracts since then, as ABC 7 reports. And in addition to the negative impacts of the pandemic, the operators are still mad at the NPS for not simply renewing their 20-year contract then. "The National Park Service should have selected an operator on a long-term basis to ensure the continued operation of this national treasure," they wrote in the now offline message.
On Sunday, the Hountalases claimed in a Facebook message "our website received so much traffic after our announcement that the server has gone down." This seems kind of suspect? But who knows. "There is already such an outpouring of sadness and love coming our way," they write. "We thank all of you for your support - now and over the years. And we love all of you too!"
Stay tuned to see how the drama may resolve — because this doesn't sound like it's quite over yet.
Photo: Tim Foster