SAN JOSE -- After 10 years in the heart of downtown San Jose, P.F. Chang's China Bistro will close later this month. The chic and spacious restaurant got off to a fast start, but it also sat front and center in a heated debate over the redevelopment of the city center.
"P.F. Chang's had a good run," said Scott Knies, director of the Downtown Association, a nonprofit organization representing businesses in the district. But in the contentious run-up to its opening in 2004, "A number of our businesses were saying, 'Hey, what about us?'"
Some local restaurant owners at the time argued that wealthy, national chain restaurants, including Chang's and McCormick & Schmick's a few blocks away, should not benefit from public subsidies at their expense. Such criticism helped doom the state's municipal redevelopment agencies, which no longer exist after Gov. Jerry Brown called for their elimination to divert their tax revenue to other needs.
"That was a time when redevelopment was throwing money at chain restaurants to lure them downtown," said Councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents downtown and is a candidate for mayor. "We don't have to do that anymore."
In an emailed statement, the Arizona-based Chang's said it was closing the restaurant "as part of the company's ongoing profitability initiatives. This decision is a result of a rigorous evaluation of the company's entire P.F. Chang's store portfolio."
The company also said the decision was not an effort to avoid the city's minimum wage, which took effect last year and increased to $10.15 this year. It said that the 66 employees at the restaurant were offered jobs at other restaurants run by the company, which also operates the more casual Pei Wei Asian Diners.
The downtown location will serve its last meals on Sunday, Jan. 26 -- exactly 10 years to the day it opened. The company still has another P.F. Chang's in San Jose at the Oakridge Mall.
At its peak, Chang's was one of the most popular restaurants in downtown and a gathering spot for local movers and shakers and a not-so-hidden back room for political drama. Last year, two political heavyweights -- Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen and former labor leader Cindy Chavez, allegedly sparred over the top prosecutor's investigation of former county Supervisor George Shirakawa. Chavez has since replaced Shirakawa, a former ally, on the county board of supervisors. Before he went to jail last year for corruption, gambling with public funds and duping political donors, Shirakawa entertained his staff at P.F. Chang's on his county credit card.
On the more savory side, the restaurant also hosted fundraisers for various social causes and held receptions for the annual Cinequest film festival.
Knies said the closing of Chang's is part of the "ebb and flow" of the restaurant business and does not mark a reversal in the rebirth of downtown. He said a handful of independent and chain restaurants have already toured the space, and he expects a new one to open soon. Liccardo isn't too worried either, saying that about 15 new restaurants opened downtown last year, many of them by local entrepreneurs.
"It's the new model," Liccardo said. "It's organic and based on the free market."
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767 and follow him on Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.