'A devastating impact:' The coronavirus claims Clarke's Charcoal Broiler, Mountain View's oldest operating restaurant | Peninsula Foodist | Elena Kadvany | Palo Alto Online |

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'A devastating impact:' The coronavirus claims Clarke's Charcoal Broiler, Mountain View's oldest operating restaurant

Uploaded: Mar 31, 2020
The family behind Clarke's Charcoal Broiler in Mountain View has decided to close the 75-year-old restaurant in the wake of a shelter-in-place order that has brought business to a "trickle" amid uncertainty about the ability of local, independent restaurants to bounce back from the coronavirus.

Clarke's, which opened in 1945 at 615 W. El Camino Real, is believed to be Mountain View's oldest operating restaurant. It will serve its last Clarkesburgers today, March 31.

Clarke's Charcoal Broiler in Mountain View closed on March 31, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Clarke's has weathered extreme change and economic crises over the last seven decades, but the coronavirus feels different, said Steve Blach, whose parents Jim and Liz bought the business in 1975.

"The COVID-19 virus and subsequent shelter in-place and the probability of it exceeding past another 30 days has had a devastating impact on operations," Blach said. "Being a small, independently owned and operated restaurant where resources are limited, the immensely difficult decision to cease operations broke our hearts, but not our spirits."

Like many restaurants, Clarke's shifted to takeout after the Bay Area's first shelter-in-place order two weeks ago. On Tuesday, public health officials extended the order through May 3, with additional restrictions for essential businesses that are still operating, including restaurants and grocery stores, to post a "social distancing" plan detailing the measures they are taking to ensure compliance.

"It cost a significant amount of money every day" to stay open for takeout, Blach said. "You have rent. You have utilities. You have taxes. You have health care costs. It all contributes. You have to sell a lot of hamburgers — a lot of hamburgers."

Blach, his siblings and his 92-year-old mother met recently to discuss the possibility of closing Clarke's. Given the uncertainty around how long the shelter-at-home order will last and the time and resources it would take to get the business back to normal, they "decided to be proactive," he said.

"It could be another 18 months until we get back to where we were prior to the virus," he said. "What do you do? You lay off people. You cut hours. You raise prices. And then you're going to be out of business anyway," Blach said. "It's a no-win situation."

Clarke's Charcoal Broiler first opened in Mountain View in 1945. Photo courtesy Steve Blach.

He predicted that more mom-and-pop restaurants, fighting to survive on takeout and delivery amid the shutdown, will follow in Clarke's footsteps while deep-pocketed chains like McDonald's or Burger King "can absorb this."

Beth Blach, Steve's older sister, was an 18-year-old working at Clarke's when her father, a real estate broker, bought the business. At the time, it was a 20-seat operation with only four burgers on the menu, he recalled. The 11 Blach children grew up at the restaurant, working there through their teenage years.

In 1983, the family upgraded the kitchen, dining room and parking lot, growing the restaurant's capacity to over 120 seats. Over the years, they added beer, wine and new dishes to the straightforward menu, from ribs and patty melts to a teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple inspired by a trip the Blach patriarch and matriarch took to Hawaii (and later, veggie and turkey burgers).

A Facebook post announcing the closure prompted an outpouring of comments from loyal customers. Blach said he watched a longtime, elderly customer come in last weekend for the same thing he's ordered for 40 years: a Clarkesburger, cooked over charcoal, and fries.

"There are a lot of generations that grew up with Clarke's. There's a lot of sadness in those comments," Blach said. "Closing Clarke's is a big deal."

Clarke's will provide its 13 employees, including a woman who has worked there for 30 years, with severance.

"Not being able to serve our customers any longer is going to leave a void in our lives that is hard to fathom," Blach said.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by charles reilly, a resident of another community,
on Mar 31, 2020 at 5:55 pm

I'm hoping that, in the VERY near future, we put in place more flexible 'social distancing" rules that would allow places like Clarks to stay open. Many restaurants are trying to survive on "take-out" business, but it doesn't generate anywhere near enough to even cover costs. So far, San Mateo County has had only 10 deaths, and we could see 100's and 100's of bankruptcies.

Posted by dontdieforthedow, a resident of another community,
on Mar 31, 2020 at 6:27 pm

Let's break that into two pieces:

> So far, San Mateo County has had only 10 deaths

Have you been reading the newspapers lately?

> and we could see 100's and 100's of bankruptcies.

"could see"? One notes you you use present numbers in the first part of your sentence, and predictions in the 2nd.

ie. apples and oranges.


Posted by bill, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 31, 2020 at 7:54 pm

So sorry to read this. I loved this place and feel sad. California is a very expensive place to own a business with highest minimum wage and extensive worker benefits and now we are seeing that cause many business to close.

Posted by Jeremy, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 12:59 am

Let us be clear: Clarke's is closing because the government ordered them to reduce their operations while providing no means for them to recoup their losses. Yet, as a food provider, they are considered an "essential business" and were legally able to keep their building open. How are the businesses who are considered "non-essential" and have been ordered to close their buildings or suspend services supposed to survive this? How are they supposed to pay their bills for weeks or months of taking in little or no income?

The government needs a plan to keep businesses open and it needed it two weeks ago. Platitudes about shopping local and buying from your favorite restaurants are not enough. That won't even help businesses that aren't allowed to open their buildings to the public, or whose services rely on human interaction.

We need a coordinated effort to reach out to every business in California and offer them the help they need to survive the shelter-in-place order BEFORE they decide their only option is to close. Social distancing may save lives, but it will kill many businesses unless they get help.

Posted by Former_Clarke's_Patron, a resident of Mountain View,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 4:30 am

I used to live around the corner from Clarke's in the 1980s. Me and my friends used to go
there all the time. We even lucked out to have another friend who worked there who could
sometimes sneak her friends the occasional burger on the sly. But even paying with a good
tip Clarke's was a fantastic honest burger at an honest price.

The only better burger I ever tasted were the burgers from the Amber Lantern that used
to be where the Starbucks is on Stanford and El Camino, then transformed to a Mountain
Mikes, both long since out of business.

Over the years Clarke's morphed into a rip-off joint. Every year or two I drop by for a
burger fries and shake out of nostalgia. Last time I was there I dropped over $20 including
tip on a skimpy burger, a Wonder-bread kind of bun, all which I had to put together by myself
and hope the self-serve tray was stocked. This place has been a on collusion course with
failure for a long time.

Why would anyone go here except for the charity of trying to support a local business
when you can get a better faster burger put together for you on the go down the street
at In'n'Out? Sorry Clarke's, maybe move to Atherton where they afford you. I'll miss
the Clarke's from the 1980's. Sometimes progress really is progress.

Posted by Rude Staff, Bread added to beef, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 9:40 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by YP, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 9:52 am

We need smarter social distancing policies in the coming weeks to get people back to work. If not all we will be left with for restaurants will be McDonalds, Taco Bell and In-N-Out. We will buy everything from Walmart, Home Depot, Costco and Amazon. The government can't save all businesses, especially the small ones, many as this story shows will just throw in the towel. 3.3 million went on unemployment rolls last week, millions more to come.

Protect and isolate the elderly and high risk, but start getting people back to work in the coming weeks or else we have a depression.

Posted by more testing, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 10:03 am

> The government needs a plan to keep businesses open and it needed it two weeks ago

That is a national concern to be dealt with by the Feds.

The senate bill was atrocious, the house additions to the bill were helpful but we need much more.

We also need a lot more testing, which provides better data for all of us to know how long this will go. Again - that's from the Feds.

re: bread as a "filler" - some of the best recipes do that (ever had a great recipe for meatloaf that was far tastier than a plain beef patty?) As long as they don't claim 'all-beef', I'm cool with it.

Posted by more testing, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 10:06 am

> but start getting people back to work in the coming weeks

Do that, and you will have a huge growth in the deaths curve, and a depression anyway.

Look at the 1918 spanish influenza, also Hoover's actions post-1929 crash which flung the country into depression.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 11:33 am

Posted by charles reilly, a resident of another community,

>> I'm hoping that, in the VERY near future, we put in place more flexible 'social distancing" rules that would allow places like Clarks to stay open. [...]

If you mean allow people to sit down in crowds indoors, then, no. We don't need that. People need to understand that they shouldn't be sharing air and aerosols with strangers. Seriously.

>> So far, San Mateo County has had only 10 deaths,

"only" N deaths ?!

>> and we could see 100's and 100's of bankruptcies.

1000's, probably, before we are done. Let's figure out how to help small businesses survive.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 11:48 am

@Jeremy - there is assistance available. They can get a SBA loan to pay for employees, and the government will convert it to a grant if they don't fire the employees.

Posted by RollingMyEyes, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 2:01 pm

> So sorry to read this. I loved this place and feel sad. California is a very expensive place to own a business with highest minimum wage and extensive worker benefits and now we are seeing that cause many business to close.

Sure, the minimal social safety net that isn't enough to keep those workers alive and in a home is the *cause* of the economic devastation that is leading the government to increase the scope of the previously minimal safety net...

How can you sit and write that with a straight face?

These free-market zombies never let up with their counter-logical and inhumane dogma, do they?

Posted by Seth Neumann, a resident of Waverly Park,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 2:38 pm

Seth Neumann is a registered user.

so sad: Clarke's was always the place for a good old fashioned burger! So many great meals with friends had there, and the burgers were always great!

We'll miss it!

Posted by Rossta, a resident of Waverly Park,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 3:03 pm

Rossta is a registered user.

I hope all of the business (and landlords) will re-evaluate their situations when things start to return to "normal" (maybe a new normal, for a while). Income will be lost by both. Business didn't happen. Landlords won't be getting any new tenants/businesses while we are locked down. When its over, make a fresh start. Was your previous tenant a good one? Maybe you want to keep them. Was your previous business a good one? Start it back up. Its going to be like we were in suspended animation, except that we all aged and lost money.

As for Clarks, my family enjoyed going to, maybe this was just a good time to close? If not, Summer is the best time to be open! Loved sitting out on their patio on a warm evening with a pitcher.

Posted by Gordon Ramsey, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 4:05 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Chris, a resident of University South,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 4:19 pm


Please read the $2 trillion CARES act. The Feds are literally throwing money out of helicopters to people, the unemployed, small businesses and large business. If small businesses keep paying their employees for 2 months, that money will turn into a grant from the Feds. You are welcome to turn over the $1200 you will receive from the Feds to a needy small business as well.

Posted by GGinMP, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 4:19 pm

I loved Clarke's and thought it was the best burger on the peninsula. I respect the family's decision, but I wish there was some way to keep it open (or have it re-open in a month). I'd purchase a burger subscription!

Posted by See too much, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 4:39 pm

Several things can be simultaneously true:

1. Shelter-in-place is a real and essential thing. Epidemiologists are pretty much in agreement that without it we would see vastly more death, more widespread. The "efficiencies" of capitalism require that hospitals mostly operate close to capacity. So a large spike in patients will quickly overwhelm the system and create a downstream cascade of structural failures and death. This we MUST avoid.

Besides the terrible human toll, large sick and dying populations would disrupt the economy FAR more than shelter in place. What happens if enough "essential" support workers get sick? The ones who keep our stores shelves stocked with food, farm workers, utility workers, water and electric and internet -- the whole infrastructure we need to survive can go down. We're already seeing worker strikes at Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart and others. [NOTE: Please do NOT cross their picket lines. Shop elsewhere.] The (often underpaid with no benefits) workers putting their lives in danger are starting to demand more humane conditions. Good for them. If a large percentage of them get sick, we're all deeply screwed.

2. This quarantine is DEVASTATING for small businesses. If you wanted to create a dystopian sci-fi scenario where giant corporations plot to destroy much of their competition quickly you could hardly create a better plot than the one that's unfolding right now. The bipartisan system of power, all the way up to the White House (but by no means confined to the current occupant) has been captured by Big Business so thoroughly that they seem disinclined to offer significant help to these small businesses.

3. Let alone, much help for the TENS OF MILLIONS of Americans who just today lost their health insurance and have no money for food, let alone rent.

4. It's possible this is just the disaster certain elements in power have been waiting for. Civil unrest is a real possibility. I know if my own children were facing starvation in a society with plenty of food (and money) to go around, I WOULD NOT GO GENTLY INTO THE NIGHT. And, of course, if civil unrest breaks out an authoritarian response is sure to follow, perhaps full-on fascism. Given the current occupant of the White House and a lot of his supporters, I would take this to be a non-zero possibility.

None of us can organize counter-demonstrations or protests during a pandemic. This seems like a terrifyingly perfect storm to end our democracy as we know it. Will we even have a presidential election?

For the moment, it's tempting to be lost in our own dramas and forget the vast reservoirs of suffering that are happening right now all around the country. Overlooking the suffering of the poor is an easy default if you're middle class and relatively affluent. DO NOT LOOK AWAY.

Let's use this crisis to create a more fair and just world. Shock Doctrine can work both ways, after all.

Posted by West Menlo, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 5:22 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Michelle R, a resident of Mountain View,
on Apr 1, 2020 at 8:55 pm

My husband and I are so sad to hear that Clarke's is closing. It feels like the end of an era.

Posted by Brandon, a resident of Mountain View,
on Apr 2, 2020 at 9:00 am

Sad to see Clark's go. I ate there once or twice a month. I've been trying to continue to patronize the restaurants that I commonly frequented by ordering delivery. Was Clark's on any delivery service? I've looked for them on Uber Eats multiple times but I didn't see them. I‘m sure it was a tough decision for them to close, but it doesn't seem like they did all they could do to try to stay alive :-(

Posted by MuddyBoots, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 2, 2020 at 1:23 pm

You know what is a real small business killer? An out of control pandemic. When your friends and neighbors and family members are in the hospital and dying, then please tell us that only 10 people died and "smarter" social distancing rules would keep restaurants open and small businesses alive.
New York City tried halfway rules, and where are they now? A family member lives in NYC and knows people in the medical community. It is like a war zone, and businesses are still virtually shut-down. (And this is in NYC where many apartments don't have full kitchens and people relied on restaurants and take-out for virtually every meal.) The only sound is ambulances going by, all day and all night. Other cities that didn't curtail business and personal interactions will soon follow NYC's example. Miami, and Texas, yep talking about you.
Sometime there is no "smarter" way. Nature doesn't compromise to keep small businesses (or any businesses) open.
Our "smart" country elected a President who thinks everything can be solved with a tax cut and more freedom from regulation for businesses. They refused to properly fund public health and emergency response initiatives. If those were in place, this epidemic could have been nipped in the bud, the way that Taiwan and South Korea managed to do (with less lead time and fewer resources than the US.) And to avoid "scaring" people they denied that there was a problem until the problem was undeniable.
Sometime there is no "smarter" way that preserves your way of life. The only reason that there are fewer illnesses and deaths in Bay Area counties is that prescient public health officials and mayors decided to try to prevent a disaster instead of waiting until hospitals were turning away tens of thousands of critically ill people (again, and those people might have been in your family or your social circle).

Posted by Absalom, a resident of The Crossings,
on Apr 2, 2020 at 5:07 pm

Absalom is a registered user.

I am certain that the Blach family made the right decision for themselves. We are living in perilous times for both small and large businesses.

However, just over 45 years ago, when I was 23 years old, I came across a business in Mountain View that was closed because of bankruptcy. I contacted the bankruptcy trustee and asked if I could open it up again. After paying some bills that were owed to the bankruptcy court, I became the owner of a little business that became known as the Milk Pail.

I think Clarke's might have the chance to see itself get re-invented. A creative, energetic, restaurant experienced person or team could possibly step in and re-open the restaurant. But, the landlord may have other plans for that property. Or, maybe the age of the building requires too much TLC.

With the Small Business Administration ready and willing to help small businesses, and their communities, maybe this is an opportunity for a young enterprising person or group to step in and see what is possible?

Steve Rasmussen
Milk Pail

Posted by kick a guy when he is down?, a resident of College Terrace,
on Apr 2, 2020 at 6:44 pm

@Former_Clarke's_Patron, You are a piece of work. Is it REALLY necessary to post derogatory comments at time like this? Keep your negativity to yourself, you must be a real comfort to have at a funeral. Now is not the time to critique a popular business that has served our community for 75 years.

Posted by ConsiderReality, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Apr 3, 2020 at 10:42 am

Why was Clarke's still renting? Are you telling me that in 75 years of operation, the thought of buying never came up?

Posted by Former_Clarke's_Patron, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 3, 2020 at 2:05 pm

kick a guy when he is down?
> @Former_Clarke's_Patron, You are a piece of work. Is it REALLY necessary to post derogatory comments at time like this?

Hmmm, judging by your intolerance and hatred of free speech ... I bet you're a conservative, huh?

Lest unwarranted nostalgia and our often collective desire to keep things around because they've always been around cloud our judgement, I present the other side. A business, Clarke's whose product costs 4 times as much as a closely competitor business and delivered less for it. You are welcome to express how much you love that idea, but I don't see why you have to attack me and denigrate my fact-based opinion.

I'd bet you're the first to jump on the Post Office or DMV when they are not perfect, but you see a chance to pretend to be sympathetic here.

Personally I would love to see Clarke's renegotiate their lease way down and go back into business, provided they offered a competitive product at a fair price. Did you ever even go there? Because I did and I am very familiar with that place for almost 40 years.

Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 3, 2020 at 4:01 pm

@Rude Staff, Bread added to beef

Your comment was removed before I could read it, but I have two comments based on your name:

1) Decades ago I was dissed by one of Clarke's rude employees. I left and never went back. Still think poorly of them to this day and I'm sorry if that impacted the latest owners in any way.

2) Kirks's Steakburgers added bread to their patties. It was never concealed and, in fact, contributed to the moistness of their Steakburgers. If Clarke's did this as well, I would consider it a mark in their favor.

Posted by not that you deserve a response..., a resident of College Terrace,
on Apr 4, 2020 at 12:54 pm

"judging by your intolerance and hatred of free speech ... I bet you're a conservative, huh?" Yes, I have been to Clark's many times

"Judging" "Betting".... hhhmmmm...Clearly you have VERY POOR judgment. I am not conservative, not even close. you are "betting" I am first to jump on DMV or PO? Actually I was at the PO just yesterday and it went smoothly no complaints.

My point is we are in a terrible time here, let's all be a bit more compassionate. When people come across unfortunate circumstances,that is not the time to recollect times that were not the best. Clarke's was around for 75 years, not many startups have that track record (a few do, a very short list)

I patronize many locally owned businesses that are pricier than their corporate competitors, that includes small markets and independent book stores. Unfortunately many of these businesses may not be around after this disaster with thin margins and high rents.

And did I "even" go to Clarke's ? Yes I have been there many times. Are you satisfied, any more questions? Stop making assumptions about people.

Posted by dc, a resident of Sylvan Park,
on Apr 4, 2020 at 3:29 pm

Burgers are a tough market. There must be 10 "upscale burger" places in Mtn View. While to compete with while the low cost ones are disappearing can not compete. We lost Carl's jr (new building) Burger king ( empty lot ) and a Mc D, Jack in a Box in Sunnyvale (new building).

No one wants a $15 burger but its Ok with a beer and 10 friends (no place to hold them in a 1 bd room apt). I wonder how Bierhaus would be doing. Too many places on El Camino are being redeveloped at 2.5 million per Acre.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Mountain View,
on Apr 8, 2020 at 7:02 pm

Sorry to see another landmark gone, but the fact is it has been slowly going down hill for years, been going here for 25 years and the quality has declined over the years while the prices can no longer be considered a bargain. Unfortunately I'm sure they will just build more 4K a month apartments on the property.

Posted by I Loved Clark's, a resident of another community,
on Apr 18, 2020 at 12:31 pm

Growing up in Palo Alto from 1960-1990 Kirk's and Clarke's were my go-to's. After moving up north I would still take my family to Clarke's, and my sister who still lives in Cupertino.
I know Kirk's in Palo Alto aren't as good as they were on California Ave., but I saw no loss of quality at Clarke's.
My Dad died two years ago in Palo Alto, and for his last meal he wanted a Clarke's burger and onion rings; I'll miss both the food and the memories.

Posted by Samson, a resident of another community,
on Apr 25, 2020 at 11:11 am

I too sorry to read this. It's been there since the 40's. Terrible to read that coronavirus is the reason why it has shutter. RIP, Clarke!

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