How San Jose’s Al Fresco outdoor dining program is vital for local businesses’ survival

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — San Jose City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to extend a program that allows businesses to safely operate outdoors.

The Al Fresco outdoor dining program – which will now run through the end of the year – has allowed many businesses to continue to operate by moving outdoors to comply with state and county COVID-19 restrictions.

“We know many more are actually taking advantage of this and we want it to continue,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. 

“And I think we ought to be realistic about the reality of this pandemic, although we all hope everyone gets vaccinated quickly and we do all the right things,” Liccardo added.

“I think the virus is going to be with us in a pretty substantial way for quite a while, for a year or two.”

For Jennifer Echeverri, owner of Habana Cuba located in the SoFA Market in downtown San Jose, over the last year the Al Fresco program has helped her restaurant significantly to stay afloat. 

“Al Fresco allows us to have more seating since right now you can only seat every 6 feet, so we’ve lost a lot of dining area,” said Echeverri. 

“Having the Al Fresco, we took over some parking spots, we’re able to add 5 or 6 more tables that we wouldn’t have had if we didn’t have that.”

Currently, Santa Clara County is in the less-restrictive orange tier, allowing restaurants to seat customers indoors but only at 50% capacity. 

Echeverri tells KRON4 News she hopes the program will stick around permanently as the county and city slowly begin to reopen. 

“We need Al Fresco,” said Echeverri. 

“San Jose has perfect weather, so we need people to come out to feel safe and the longer that we can provide those opportunities to eat outside, the better for all of us in the long run.” 

The SoFA Market and the city as a whole have seen an influx of business as the county moved into the orange tier last week. 

As more residents continue to get vaccinated, more people are taking the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors after more than a year of adhering to stay-at-home orders. 

“The SoFa Market is in a unique position because we actually already had backdoor patio dining as well as our front door parklet dining, it’s always good to have extra seating outdoors, it really helps us, people definitely utilize it,” said David Ma, SoFA Market General Manager. 

“The mood has shifted upwards, it’s better just with the increase of foot traffic due to the weather in general,” Ma added. 

“I think the weather combined with the fact that people are getting vaccinated, I think the morale is a little bit better recently and not just at the market but the entire neighborhood really, so that’s a positive we’re happy to see.”

Allowing the Al Fresco program to continue will help the more than 130 businesses that signed up for the program that don’t have the means or capacity to to operate outdoors by parking lots, city streets and parks for free. 

The program also allows for gyms and cafes to move outdoors.

“For some businesses who have nice seating areas and had supportive customers, they’ve done ok, nobody is doing close to their pre-pandemic numbers, but there are bright spots amidst all of this,” said Nate LeBlanc Business Development Manager for the San Jose Downtown Association

LeBlanc says the process to apply for the Al Fresco program was seemingly easy to apply for, he also hopes the city is able to keep the program around permanently. 

“I would hope that we can continue post-pandemic as a model for things that make so much common sense like this,” said LeBlanc. 

“We have some of the greatest weather in the world, we’ve not utilized our outdoor areas to their fullest extent pre-pandemic, so this is something that I hope to see continue well into the future.”

The Al Fresco program will be extended to Dec. 31.

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