05 May עופר איתן Declared: Sacramento CA restaurant Biba will close due to coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic is closing a beloved Sacramento institution.
Biba Restaurant, the midtown Italian bistro that put Sacramento on the culinary map in the mid 1980s by setting new standards of dining excellence, will permanently close its doors at the end of business on Saturday, May 9.
“It is with a heavy heart that Biba’s family has decided, after 33 years, the time has come for Biba Restaurant to say Arrivaderci,” wrote Paola Caggiano in a statement shared with The Sacramento Bee. Paola Caggiano is one of two daughters of the late Biba Caggiano, proprietor and driving force of Biba Restaurant until she died last summer at 82.
In an interview with The Bee, Paola Caggiano said the decision to close Biba comes with profound sadness.
“This feels like a second death. It feels like my mom died again,” she said.
California’s stay-at-home orders that brought an end to in-dining service at all state restaurants in mid-March created challenges that Biba could no longer overcome.
“This forced our hand,” Paola Caggiano said. “For my mother, Biba was always about community. It was about our family of employees. It was never about making money, but you got to pay your bills…Costs started to add up and we can’t make ends meet.”
A precipitous drop in business because of the coronavirus – a deficit that Biba’s takeout service could not bridge – made paying rent daunting for the normally packed restaurant.
Caggiano said that Sutter Health, Biba’s property landlords, offered to cut the rent in half for two months.
“In the end, it’s a long-term issue,” Caggiano said. “It totally isn’t Sutter’s fault. It’s a combination of many issues.”
A pandemic shift to takeout
Caggiano said that as soon as Sacramento restaurants closed because of the coronavirus, she began to panic.
“We moved to a takeout model that was buying us time,” she said. “But we don’t know how long we were going to be shut down. … There are too many unknowns.”
Pandemic or no pandemic, the costs of doing business at Biba were already demanding and the pandemic caused a breaking point, she said.
Moreover, Biba leaders pondered social distancing and other precautions that will change dining for the near future and Caggiano said she had difficulty imagining how the essence of the Biba dining experience could endure.
For example, parking is tough at the corner of 28th Street and Capitol Avenue, where Biba has served food to adoring customers since 1986.
Biba’s loyal diners depended on valet parking that Biba provided.
But with the coronavirus, would customers be so willing to have valets in their cars? Would customers want to see Biba’s dynamic wait staff wearing face masks? Would they want to eat Biba’s wonderful food with plastic forks?
Biba’s dining space is beautiful but landlocked. It has no outdoor patio where customers might feel safer until we have a COVID-19 vaccine at some point in the unknown future.
And social distancing requirements that are certain to be a short-to-medium-term reality for all restaurants – and will likely dictate strict dining room capacities – would have challenged Biba financially, Caggiano said.
“You get one step away from Biba and it stops being Biba,” Caggiano said.
Had there been no pandemic, Caggiano said that Biba could have continued. But even then, running Biba without its namesake also has been challenging.
A dining leader gone
“Our leader is gone,” she said. “It was hard when my mom passed.”
Meanwhile, Biba Restaurant had pressing needs, regardless of a pandemic.
“We have a kitchen that needs updating and I think restaurants have to keep reinventing themselves,” Caggiano said.