Rusty's, the Tenderloin's beloved Southern restaurant, will close next week.
"We held on as long as we could," said owner Rusty Olson, who celebrated the restaurant's five-year anniversary in March. That milestone coincided with the renewal of its lease — and a significant rent increase, which kicked in just as the pandemic struck.
Even before COVID-19, sales were sagging. "2019 was a hard year for the Tenderloin," Olson said. Six months after indoor dining shut down, he's making only 25% of what he used to pull in.
"There was a lot of hope when we opened in 2015," Olson said, noting that many new businesses were setting up shop in the Tenderloin at the time. Some have since departed, as rents rise higher than revenue.
Olson said he and his wife and business partner, Cody, have been trying to negotiate with their landlord for months. They were finally able to get out of their lease, and can still afford to pay the last few months' back rent.
Known for its Carolina-style barbecue and fried chicken, Rusty's has become a favorite with many Tenderloin locals, and Olson said he's sad to leave the neighborhood behind.
But he's holding on to his photos and wall decor, hinting that they may eventually hang in a new spot in the city.
For his "bittersweet" final days, he's been digging out unusual beers and putting together merchandise packs to share with loyal customers who drop by for a final takeout meal.
"We're gonna get a lot of people fed this next week," he said. "We aim to finish strong."