(CNN)As Thomas Hontalas cleaned out the restaurant he shared with his brother, it was hard to fathom that his 83-year family legacy was coming to an end.
"I'm trying to process not having this business I've been working at my entire life. I started working there when I was 10 years old," Hontalas told CNN. "I kind of feel lost right now."
Louis' Café, which sat on a San Francisco cliff overlooking Ocean Beach, was started by his grandfather at the end of the Great Depression. Through World War II, devastating fires and threats of demolition, Louis' held his grandfather's name and stayed in the family through three generations. Until the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
Coronavirus shuttered much of the US at the outset of the pandemic, and the hit on restaurants was especially devastating. A recent study showed that nearly two-thirds of New York restaurants could be out of business as soon as January without government aid.
Already, several restaurants across the US that weathered the economic chaos of the Great Depression to become fixtures in their communities have not been able to withstand coronavirus.
'I never encountered anything like this'
Hontalas' grandfather, Louis, brought his 19-year-old wife on a ship from Greece to the US in 1928 -- right on the heels of the Great Depression. Their family grew quickly, and they did everything they could to make it through their first years.
By the end of it, they had Louis'.
But it was not smooth sailing from there. World War II soon followed and brought rationing. In 1949, the building adjacent caught fire, damaging Louis' as well. Then in the 1960's, the building was bought, and Hontalas said the new landlord threatened to tear it down to build condominiums. When a fire broke out in the Sutro Bath's nearby in 1966, Hontalas said it was a "miracle" Louis' didn't burn down.
Through the threats of destruction, Hontalas' grandfather, his father and then he and his brother kept Louis' afloat with their great view, their good food, their fair prices and their people, he said.
One of which was Rachel Lelchuk, a Russian woman who wore a flower in her hair and could sell a piece of pie for breakfast, Hontalas said. She started working at Louis' in 1946 and stayed for about 55 years. Customers would wait for a table just to make it into her section, he said.
And then coronavirus hit.
"On March 16 -- it was a Monday -- we opened our doors for business and there was no one around," Hontalas said. "We closed that day around noon."
Later that day, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that restaurants would not be allowed to remain open. Even at the time, Hontalas said he was suspicious that this wouldn't be going away any time soon.
"I never encountered anything like this and neither has anyone else," he said.
From insurance to rent to utilities, the bills piled up and revenue had disappeared indefinitely. Hontalas sat down to go over the numbers as his brother and business partner dealt with serious health concerns, and he realized they couldn't keep it afloat.
Hontalas said he thought he was just closing "a little restaurant," but then the announcement was followed by an outpouring of love. Patrons shared stories of their last meal with their grandmother there, begging as children to be taken to eat there, getting their first job there and ultimately, many said, being treated like family when they walked in the door.
'We depended on the full dining room'
Ritz Barbecue in Allentown, Pennsylvania, shut down the day before the governor's order, and thought they would open again.
"Initially it was supposed to be two weeks, and it was like 'yeah we can deal with that.'