The restaurant business is a tough one to begin with. Opening a new restaurant is even tougher. And opening a new restaurant during a pandemic makes it exponentially tougher.
But that’s exactly what Reza Manion has done, and he’s determined to make it work, with Bloom Eatery, a breakfast and lunch bistro, in the former home of Golden Mushroom Pizza on Saratoga Avenue.
A Santa Clara native, Manion comes from a family of restaurateurs, the longtime owners of Sara’s Kitchen, one of Santa Clara’s favorite breakfast spots. “I grew up in the restaurant,” he said.
Manion had been looking for his own opportunity to make his mark with a Santa Clara restaurant, he said. He looked at several opportunities, none was right, “but I have always been on the hunt,” he explained.
When in 2018 the owners of the Golden Mushroom — another multigenerational Santa Clara restaurant family — decided to move out of Silicon Valley, Manion found his chance. The location already had healthy morning and early afternoon traffic for Starbucks, so by simply being next door would give him extensive advertising.
“I already knew the owners, and they called me and offered me the remaining lease,” Manion said. “We closed escrow in late 2018 and then began the daunting challenge of renovation.” As well as completely renovating the interior, Manion had to completely replace the plumbing and electrical to bring them up to current code — no upgrades had been made since the restaurant was built over 40 years ago.
But before Manion could start work, he had to endure six months of wrangling with the Santa Clara water department. The City wanted the landlord to make improvements to the water system that weren’t even in the building.
“The City wouldn’t release my build-out permit until the landlord made the improvement,” Manion said. “I felt like I was being used for leverage.”
Manion worked with the landlord, and they eventually resolved the problem. But he still finds the City’s behavior inexplicable. “If you have a restaurant that’s going to close,” he said, “wouldn’t you want that a new business open in its place?”
Demolition had just started in March 2020 when the County imposed the first COVID-19 shutdown. “I couldn’t continue construction, and the Planning Department was shut down so there were no inspections.”
Manion persevered and completed the massive remodeling project and opened for outdoor service on Nov. 17. Three weeks later came the current Stay-at-Home order. It could have been a death blow to the new restaurant taking its first baby steps toward building a following.
The restaurant pivoted to a takeout operation, but admits the difficulty of that when people don’t know the restaurant. “So far we’ve done one week of takeout only and it’s looking pretty grim,” Manion said. “Not too many people know us yet. There’s a big chance we’re going to have to shut down completely.”
What keeps Manion going is that Bloom isn’t just a restaurant to him. He’s trying to build something in the community that’s been a lifelong home to him. “If I hadn’t grown up in this very neighborhood, if I was just a random investor, I’d cut my losses,” he said.
“I’m from Santa Clara and felt the city needed more dining options — so many restaurants are gone: Papa Ricks, By-Th’-Bucket, Vesuvios, Wilson bakery, Harry’s Hoffbrau. Too many times we drive to Campbell or other places for that experience.”
“This place has the chance to be an amazing addition to our community,” he said.
From the bright and light décor to a menu with signature versions of classic favorites, Manion has created a fresh take on breakfast and lunch. Bloom’s cocktail menu features unique Brunch cocktails, light and bright as the décor.
Despite the difficulties, Manion is determined to keep on keeping on.
“I’m trying to keep my payroll,” he said. “There’s no profit, but if I can cover my expenses, I will come to work on their [employees’] behalf. I feel like I have to persevere for my staff. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.
“It’s challenging but I’m hopeful,” he adds.