While still governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in an homage to his silver-screen past, assured Zitune owners he’d “be back” when he included the famous line alongside his signature after lunch there a year ago.
But now he won’t have the chance.
Owners of the popular Moroccan/Mediterranean eatery and watering hole closed their doors Sunday, citing economic queasiness and that “the Los Altos downtown revitalization we had hoped for never materialized.”
“You watch the numbers, see where things are going,” said rookie restaurant owner Kim Auerbach, who co-owned the spot with her husband, chef Chafik Larobi. “Our decision to close was made Friday. … We just weren’t seeing the volume.”
Auerbach, a Mountain View resident, said management sent an e-mail to 1,000-plus customers alerting them of their exit. Sunday proved a “phenomenal” yet bittersweet response as the restaurant overflowed with diners.
The Michelin Guide for San Francisco, Bay Area & the Wine Country Restaurants 2011 rated Zitune’s Moroccan cuisine in November “recommended,” a distinguished honor. Downtown Japanese restaurant Sumika also received the recommendation.
The honor “was a reflection that even though we were struggling (financially), we never compromised,” Auerbach said.
Zitune’s closure comes as the city works to reverse the downturn in commercial districts. According to the restaurant’s owners, it didn’t happen quickly enough.
“It was not an easy decision,” Larobi said. “We gave it all we got, made sure we delivered service and were part of the community. … At the end of the day, there’s not enough foot traffic to keep business going.”
“I know the city is doing things to market downtown and bring people in. It just wasn’t happening,” Auerbach said.
City figures might indicate otherwise for some. Finance Director Russ Morreale reported in December that an uptick in restaurant activity helped push a 7 percent increase in total sales tax dollars over last year for the period between April and June.
With at least five large-scale developments slated for downtown in coming months and years, things could pick up.
Still, despite a visit from the former celebrity governor and a nod in the Michelin guide, Auerbach said the city’s residents could provide better support for local establishments.
“We took a risk when we opened in Los Altos” in December 2006, she said. “We thought there were enough people who would appreciate our food and not go to San Francisco or Palo Alto for dinner. … Unfortunately not everyone came back frequently enough. … People don’t come into town to support businesses enough.”
When asked if the restaurant would honor outstanding gift certificates in some way, she said the restaurant plans to figure that out this week along with sorting other final details.
“I’m really sorry to see it happen,” said Nancy Dunaway, executive director of the Los Altos Village Association. “They did a lot of things right.”
As for the couple’s culinary future, expect to see Larobi back cooking exotic concoctions sooner than later – somewhere, after he takes some time off.
“Nothing’s going to keep him out of the kitchen,” Auerbach said. “We don’t know where he’ll end up, but he’ll be cooking again.”