San Diego restaurants convert empty buildings into food markets
6 min read
Restaurant and shop owners are selling hard-to-find food staples all over San Diego, with local pickup and delivery.
Before the pandemic hit, Ike Gazaryan's job was to work the floor of his restaurant's dining room, schmoozing guests as they feasted on Chilean sea bass underneath chandeliers. As co-owner of Pushkin, a Russian restaurant, his specialty was warming dinner tables with friendly chatter and a big personality.

Now, Gazaryan's downtown restaurant is empty, save for a few staff members in the kitchen. Instead of patrons at his bar, there are two computers set up to take online orders. But it's not fine cuisine he's selling.

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Gazaryan is selling groceries. Chicken, rice, beans, produce — essential items that have become scarce in supermarkets across the U.S.


"I miss the people," Gazaryan said. "I miss the interaction with my customers. But it's necessary."

Chefs who once baked racks of lamb and Norwegian salmon are now unwrapping massive boxes of restaurant-grade meat, flour and other pantry staples, weighing them by the pound and wrapping them in Ziploc bags for individual sale. Of the 15 staffers Gazaryan originally laid off when Pushkin shut down, he's been able to hire 12 back.

"Business has picked up, thank God. But it's also something we're doing for our community," Gazaryan said.

Ike Gazaryan owner of Pushkin, has converted his restaurant to an online-only supermarket. (K.C. Alfred /San Diego Union-Tribune)


From dining room to supermarket operation

Pushkin is one of several San Diego restaurants and specialty shops that have overthrown their entire business model to convert into tiny supermarkets. Leaning on restaurant suppliers that have excess food and nowhere to sell, these business owners are filling a gap that grocery chains have been unable to serve.

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