40-Year-Old San Francisco Diner Chain Closes All Locations, Cites Economy and Homelessness

(Getty Images)
February 29, 2024

A San Francisco restaurant chain recently closed its last two remaining locations after 40 years of operation, with the owner citing the city's economic challenges and homelessness.

"COVID has been a disease for us, let's put it that way, so it's been difficult, and we tried opening six or eight stores in the beginning in 2021, and it was ugly," Lee's Diner founder and owner Lee Quan told the local ABC 7 in a report published Wednesday. "There was just nobody around—we can't do business."

Quan, whose family-owned chain had 16 locations at its height, said after the pandemic, people were generally back to work only for three days out of the week. He also blamed inflation, minimum wage hikes in San Francisco, and a lack of support from government leaders from the city and state for his business's closure.

"Did they do anything to really help us? No," Quan said. "What things they did were insufficient to deal with the problem. We needed people to come back in and we needed the homeless people out. When the pandemic hit we had 12 stores, let's say. Each one of those stores was stocked for food that would last a couple weeks up to a month, so when we could not open, all that food ended up going in the garbage can!"

Mayor London Breed (D.) discussed the difficulties of the city's Financial District, where many of Quan's restaurants were located, in an interview with the outlet.

"Revitalization takes time," Breed said. "We've been through a global pandemic. Shopping patterns have changed, and so we need to adjust to that, and we need to reduce all the fees and taxes and barriers that make it difficult for people to thrive in business in San Francisco, and that's exactly what I'm doing."

Lee's Diner is one of many notable San Francisco businesses to have closed in recent months. Earlier this month, Jeffrey's Toys, which inspired the movie Toy Story, shut down, with the owner citing crime. Target shuttered nine stores, three of which were in or near San Francisco, in September, due to similar safety threats and theft. A hardware store last week began requiring customers to shop with escorts as a way to deter thieves. And Macy's on Tuesday announced it is closing its flagship store in Union Square, which had been open since 1929.