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San Jose Restaurants

Spring brings signs of economic revival to San Jose and Silicon Valley restaurants

THE SIGNS of spring in Silicon Valley extend beyond blossoms and warmer weather. The South Bay’s restaurant scene appears to be to warming up after a long, cold recessionary chill. In my visits to Silicon Valley restaurants, I’m starting to see something I haven’t seen in a long time: crowds. In some restaurants I actually have to make a reservation. Has economic recovery finally come to Silicon Valley’s restaurant scene?

Cin-Cin co-owner and wine director Lisa Rhorer thinks so. She says business at her Los Gatos restaurant and wine bar is up about 20 percent over last year. The key to success in these challenging times has been innovation and creativity—a restaurant that’s simply waiting for things to get better and not making adjustments to what it does is going to have trouble, she says. “Our strategy is looking at this as a challenging time, but in a fun way,” she says. “We think: ‘How can we think outside the box?’ We do a lot of wine-tasting events, focusing on different varietals. We also have a retail license so we can sell wine. ...We’re constantly looking at menu changes. We’re constantly thinking of the next fun thing that will bring our customers here.” But she is noticing that customers expect more from restaurants when they do go out. “That means that your food, wine and cocktail offerings have got to be innovative, and your staff has to be well trained—and also your product offering—because people are more critical about where their money is being spent. Anyone who is in customer service is seeing that there is a different customer out there, a wise customer who doesn’t want to part with their money. So you have to show them your value and what differentiates you from the rest.”

Reposado general manager John Oyarzun is happy to point to a 30 percent boost in business over last year. He says part of the reason for their growth is improvements in service and management. At Mountain View’s Cascal, general manager Brad Daly feels fortunate to be doing as well as they are. Business is up from this time last year, especially corporate parties, but dinner too. Downtown San Jose seems to have been particularly hard hit by the recession but things are looking up at Morton’s Steakhouse. General manager Margaret Elkins says business is up 12–15 percent from this time last year and the restaurant is in the last stage of construction on a new 100-seat dining section. “If we weren’t confident the economy would pick back up, we wouldn’t have pursued the expansion of the restaurant,” she says. Not everything is rosy. Last year, when I spoke to 71 St. Peter co-owner and chef Luis Rodriguez, things looked grim. When I spoke to his sister and business partner, Laura Rodriguez, last week she said things were definitely looking up until April came around; the first two weeks were the worst in the history of the restaurant. But she’s optimistic things are going to turn around, especially if the Sharks do well. Home games at the nearby HP Pavilion are always good for business, she says. “Hopefully, next week we’ll start getting back into the swing of things,” she says.