Before the pandemic, two downtown San Jose bar owners joined forces with a vision for an entertainment venue in San Pedro Square. What they had in mind was a place where people would come together and socialize.
It would have a bowling alley, a karaoke bar and an arcade. Co-owners David Mulvehill and Mike Messinger pictured people gathered around pool tables, Skee-Ball and Pop-a-Shot basketball games eating comfort food and sipping craft cocktails.
Their aspiration was nearly derailed when gatherings were banned due to COVID-19. Now, even as public health officials order people to keep socially distant from one another, Mulvehill told San José Spotlight he and Messinger have kept the dream of San Pedro Social alive.
San Pedro Social is at 163 W. Santa Clara St. at the previous site of AFK Gamer Lounge and AP Stump’s restaurant.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Mulvehill said. “COVID has definitely thrown a spanner into the works but we’re three-quarters through the project, so what do you do? I still believe in it and think in time we’ll be fine.”
Due to shifting coronavirus-related regulations, construction has been erratic, extending the timetable for opening.
“I just hope we get over the finish line,” Mulvehill said. “It’s a sizable project. It cost millions … gazillions. It’s a big investment.”
San Pedro Social will be one of the last places allowed to open due to COVID-19 regulations, and people have to feel comfortable coming inside.
Opening day is just the beginning; Mulvehill said he won’t be happy until the business is stable and self-sustaining, and they have a little extra to reinvest and pay down some loans.
If COVID-19 hadn’t hit, they’d be open already, he said, and if all goes well, they could open May 1. But even if construction is completed, opening depends on county regulations regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
“If things go in the right direction; better weather, vaccinations, stimulus money coming in, we can open,” Mulvehill said. “Maybe by September, October we’ll be fully operational.”
In the meantime, work is underway.
“We want to have it on ice, ready to go,” he said.
Even with all the ups and downs, Mulvehill said he has managed to remain optimistic.
Before COVID-19, the business environment downtown had a positive outlook, with recent development in San Pedro Square and Google’s Downtown West project on the horizon, according to Mulvehill.
“You’re investing in that,” he said. “We’re recognizing there’s a market down here and people are moving into these apartments.”
Starting a new business during the pandemic hasn’t been all bad. Having less competition puts business owners in a stronger bargaining position against vendors and workers, Mulvehill said.
Mulvehill worked his way up in the service industry. About 15 years ago, he was bartending at O’Flaherty’s. In time, he became assistant manager, then general manager, and when owner Ray O’Flaherty passed away, Mulvehill eventually became a partner with Ray’s son Brendan O’Flaherty. They opened Five Points together.
And Mulvehill became neighbors with Messinger, who owns Farmers Union Gastro Pub. Then one day, while Mulvehill was speaking of his financial concerns with San Pedro Social, Messinger suggested they partner.
Together, Messinger and Mulvehill formed MDM Restaurant/Bar Group, and between them manage Five Points, Farmers Union Gastro Pub, Blanco Urban Venue and O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub.
Mulvehill said street dining has been a lifeline for San Pedro Square and he hopes it continues.
“I’m hoping the city understands that we have some making up to do businesswise,” Mulvehill said. “With outdoor dining we do really well. Without it, we’re screwed.”
Dan Phan, co-owner of Original Gravity pub, craft cocktail bar Paper Plane and MINIBOSS arcade, agreed things have been tough downtown during the pandemic. All of his businesses have been closed since last March.
“We’ve been trying to survive,” Phan said. “We’re relying on grants to cover our expenses.”
Phan commiserates with San Pedro Social opening during the coronavirus pandemic.
“To do that kind of project right now is a big challenge.” Phan said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. Being near San Pedro Street, I think they’ll do great once they’re open.”
Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association, said small businesses have faced enormous economic challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. He can’t help but be proud of new ones opening.
“Every one that has opened up downtown during the pandemic, we look at them as beacons of light in the darkness,” Knies said. “And a signal that entrepreneurs have a spirit of resilience that is going to lead us out of this pandemic wilderness.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]