Popular East Village restaurant closing for good this weekend

Owners say minimum wage hikes led to decision

SAN DIEGO (KGTV): After 14 years, Cafe Chloe, a popular East Village French-style cafe, is closing for good this weekend.

"The writing was sort of on the wall," says owner Alison McGrath.  "But just because we're closing, doesn't mean we didn't do it exactly the way we wanted."

McGrath opened the restaurant in 2004, naming it after her then 2-year old daughter, Chloe. It had since become a neighborhood favorite in the East Village.

"We sort of grew up together," she says of the area. "We came at just the right time, just before the ballpark, the law school and the library. All those things were coming in and so we kind of developed together."

Now, it seems, the neighborhood may have developed beyond the cafe. New restaurants opening around downtown have added competition. And McGrath says her small business just couldn't keep up with payroll after the recent increases to the minimum wage.

"We never wanted to compromise on service or quality. So we never made the cuts that so many other people did," she says. "The great irony is a lot of people have lost their jobs because of (the minimum wage increase), rather than creating jobs or making a living wage for people."

McGrath says Cafe Chloe had 30 employees on staff. Many of them have found new jobs. A few will stay with her as she works on other restaurant projects.

In the meantime, the cafe's final week has been bittersweet.

"I know what it means to lose your favorite place," McGrath says. "I've had places that I've lost before, and they can be your whole connection to the neighborhood."

McGrath says her voicemail and email have filled up with messages from customers, all wanting to wish her well and share their Cafe Chloe story.

"So many people have told me their first date stories, their prom date stories, their bringing their baby in for their first french fry story. It's been really wonderfully gratifying to know what we've meant to the community."

She says she'll always remember the night of a major blackout downtown when the restaurant stayed open. Her chefs used flashlights to cook. McGrath will also keep one specific souvenir, a painting of the cafe that she found at Liberty Station.

For its final weekend, Cafe Chloe will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Reservations are full, but McGrath says she's keeping a few tables open for walk-in customers who want to say farewell.

"It was the realization of a dream," she says. "It's the end of that dream and the beginning of another one."

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