Citizen restaurant closing for good; coronavirus cited as a reason

Citizen, pictured in January 2020, is preparing to close. (Photos by Mike Platania and submitted by Maki Somosot)

Fueled in part by the coronavirus, a popular downtown lunch spot is preparing to close for good after the pandemic soured a deal that would have put it under new ownership.

Citizen, founded nine years ago by wife-and-husband duo Sherri and Greg Johnson, will close March 18.

The breakfast and lunch spot opened in 2011 at 909 E. Main St. before moving a few blocks east in 2015 to its current home at 1203 E. Main St.

Greg Johnson at the 2015 reopening of his restaurant. (BizSense file photo)

Greg said he’d worked for months to line up a buyer for the business, as his lease was up for renewal and he wasn’t sure he wanted to lock in for another five years.

He had a buyer and deal in hand, until the economic reverberations from the COVID-19 pandemic made the transaction unfeasible.

“We had a green light and 36 hours later the world fell apart, and so did the deal,” Johnson said on Monday. “We worked with the landlord to make sure the new tenant was going to be good.”

The unnamed buyer’s main business is selling food at festivals, but with festivals being cancelled and postponed en masse, Johnson said the buyer couldn’t risk buying Citizen.

Despite Citizen’s closure, Johnson said he’s staying in the restaurant business.

“I’m a lifer, I’ve been doing this 35-plus years. I’m not changing,” he said. “I’m one of those guys that truly loves this business, and the quirks and the ups and downs of it. I’ll work for somebody else for a while.”

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Bob LawMatt Fariskarl hottMichael AllenMat Taylor Recent comment authors
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Frank Smith
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Frank Smith

Sounds like the business wasn’t on a sound footing anyway. I like blaming the Coronaflu.

Marty Conn
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Marty Conn

Thoughtful comment – best spot for breakfast and lunch downtown for almost 10 years (if you were lucky enough to get a seat).

Garry Whelan
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Garry Whelan

So, you would buy a business that depends upon customers being there when we are being actively discouraged to distance ourselves and their customer base are working from home for an indeterminate timescale?
Small business owners won’t get bailouts from the Federal Reserve.

Eric Reeves
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Eric Reeves

Very sad to see one of my favorite Richmond restaurants go!

Michael Allen
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Michael Allen

Wow Frank. At least you were first.
Citizen was a great spot for breakfast and lunch. The food was always good, service was prompt, and the atmosphere was very friendly. So sorry to see them close.

John Lindner
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John Lindner

Nooooooooo, oooooooooo! Come back quick Greg.

Mat Taylor
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Mat Taylor

Bad lede. The virus didn’t foil the restaurant or its business. It foiled the planned sale of the restaurant. Expanding in this environment has gotten more uncertain.

karl hott
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karl hott

Greg Johnson is the bomb. Can’t wait for his next act. No mercy for Frank Smith.

Matt Faris
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Matt Faris

I guess business interruption insurance coverage wasn’t an option or it wasn’t purchased. Perhaps someone in the field can explain if a pandemic even applies to such a coverage.

Bob Law
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Bob Law

Typically business interruption insurance requires a direct physical loss to trigger coverage. For example, a sinkhole on your property would trigger coverage, but a sinkhole at the end of the street would not be covered, even if it essentially blocked all patrons from your business. There is a possibility that an employee testing positive for COVID-19 would give rise to coverage, but it is too soon to tell.