Downtown San Jose restaurants: When will office workers return?

On Thursday morning, Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to be in Alameda County to highlight small businesses roaring back as California fully reopens. However, the economic recovery already appears uneven. It could take a lot longer for some businesses in downtown San Jose to bounce back.

Restaurants in downtown San Jose rely heavily on business from San Jose State students, office tech workers and convention-goers. Until that mix of clientele returns, many restaurant owners said they’ll continue to struggle.

"We are ready to go, we have the food, we have the employees," said Adolfo Gomez, co-owner of Mezcal Restaurant.

Mezcal Restaurant in downtown San Jose does not have customers during the lunch hour. One day, after the state fully reopened, it is nowhere near business as usual.

"In terms of our business for lunch, it’s really slow," said Gomez. "People are not coming back to the offices yet. We are waiting for the city to open, for the county to open."

Ninety-five percent of their lunch crowd is downtown office workers. Business is so bad, the owner is considering only opening for dinner.

"I’m going to give it a try another month," said Gomez. "Hopefully we will start seeing people walking in downtown."

Corporate catering has also suffered. The owner said, five restaurants that competed with Mezcal did not survive the pandemic.

"It’s been very difficult on our businesses in downtown, very difficult," said Blage Zelalich, City of San Jose downtown manager.

Zelalich said sales tax revenue citywide was down 20 percent during the pandemic. In downtown alone, it was down 50 percent.

Downtown city leaders expect most of the 30,000 office workers to return to a hybrid model in the office three days a week.

"It is going to take a little bit of time for us to welcome people back to the offices, to the convention center, to the hotels," said Scott Knies, San Jose downtown association executive director.

"There’s some rumors going around they are saying end of August people go to the offices," said Nemea Greek Taverna owner Dino Tekdemir.

The owner of Nemea Greek Taverna, a downtown staple that caters to business travelers, dealt with two blows, the pandemic and a recent kitchen fire.

The owner said business is down 75 percent. He has two other locations in Campbell and Palo Alto. He said business there is fantastic.

"People who goes to my restaurant, they live there," said Tekdemir.

For now, he’s relying on the government’s help and a lot of patience.

"Maybe not this year but 2022 I’m assuming 100 percent will go back to normal," said Tekdemir.

Downtown San Jose city leaders are optimistic with summer events and museums making a comeback. City Hall workers are expected to return in a limited capacity in July. 60% of San Jose State students will return in person in August.

Azenith Smith is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Azenith at and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @AzenithKTVU or Facebook or