Teleferic eating
Teleferic Barcelona recently opened its doors in downtown Los Gatos. (Submitted)

Few sectors of the economy have seen as much volatility during the pandemic than the restaurant industry. And in recent weeks Los Gatos has seen its fair share of upheaval.

But according to wine salesman Sebastian Balest of Benicia-based Winebow, who’s been making the rounds to local watering holes, at this stage Los Gatos is seeing more reopenings than closings.

“I do think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for people to go out,” he said. “But that’s tempered by fears.”

While Santa Clara County has been averaging around 5,000 cases of coronavirus a day, several eatery owners have been embarking on new phases in their business life.

Despite the public health uncertainty, for Basque Country cuisine-based Telefèric Barcelona, it was time to expand to Los Gatos, says Elizabeth Reviriego, the company’s marketing manager

“We’re lucky enough to have survived,” she said, explaining the family restaurant chain has benefitted from understanding customers around the Bay Area. “This is all thanks to the kindness of our customers, who have been coming and grabbing food to-go, and grabbing items from the market.”

It officially opened its Los Gatos location at 50 University Ave. on Jan. 13, which the mayor attended.

She says the pinchos and other tapas-style items they offer seem to be in demand because people are craving a sense of connection in socially-distanced times.

“It’s all meant to be shared and enjoyed in community,” she said. “You miss that.”

The company is focused on providing an authentic Spanish dining experience, she said, adding she’s excited to be part of the Los Gatos launch, as she was aware of the Barcelona location back before she emigrated.

“It reminds me of home,” she said. “This feeling that you’re in Europe—I only get it at Teleferic.”

The menu includes Iberian oysters for $4 each, grilled salmon for $25, and a clam, octopus and squid ink dish for $44.

“As an employee, what I can say is, I feel so welcome and taken care of, that I wouldn’t want to move,” Reviriego said. “It’s also very exciting.”

In the era of the Great Resignation, this approach to taking care of your employees seems to be key for business owners.

Balest notes that one Saratoga business he’s aware of was unable to hold one of its biggest money-making functions of the year because it couldn’t get enough workers for the event.

“When you see places closing it’s due to staff shortages,” he said. “Things have changed.”

The entire business model has shifted too, he adds, pointing to how around 70 percent of alcohol sales now go through grocery stores and wine shops now, instead of in-person in bars and lounges.

Balest contends that restaurants haven’t been the huge vectors of infection some thought they would be, and he encourages people to take advantage of dining experiences, safely.

“The restaurants are not petri dishes,” he said. “If you don’t support places like that, the people that work there aren’t going to have jobs. These places won’t be able to reopen because of staff shortages.”

But, as it turns out, while the employment crunch did impact Flights’ Los Gatos operations, it wasn’t the reason owner Alex Hult decided to close the location at the end of December.

Flights on Saratoga-Los Gatos road has closed, but owner Alex Hult recently opened a new location in San Jose. (Photo by Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

The award for Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back goes to prodigious disability lawsuit filer Scott Johnson, who launched his third civil action round against the restaurant owner last year.

Hult says the lawyer fees this time alone are going to run above $10,000. That doesn’t include what he’ll have to pay Johnson, and to fix things on the property.

While the Saratoga-Los Gatos Road site was Hult’s first Flights locale, the company is expanding rapidly, so maintaining the spot in the face of this new legal action didn’t make sense to him.

“Los Gatos has just been kind of dragging along,” he said. “It wasn’t super busy and it wasn’t doing great, but it was kind of working.”

However, they just opened a new location in San Jose at the Plex development, and they’re going to move into franchising the restaurant concept.

And as far as Los Gatos goes, Hult isn’t going anywhere.

He’s decided to revamp the N. Santa Cruz Avenue storefront which hosted the Immersive dinner theater and nightclub this fall and winter.

Hult’s taking it back to the old school Mountain Charley’s vibe.

And he says he won’t ever forget how the community supported Flights—not to mention the preceding eponymous concept.

“It’s meant a lot,” he said. “It’s catapulted me to a restaurateur.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].



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