Skip to main content

This historic SF bar wins rare Covid cash, gives staff a bonus

Workers build an exterior dining area at John’s Grill in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, November 10, 2020. Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

San Francisco’s iconic restaurant John’s Grill is set to announce it has reached a rare Covid insurance settlement and will give staff a bonus, along with donating funds to SF City College.

The storied bar—popular with the city’s elite political class—won the settlement from The Hartford and its affiliate Sentinel Insurance Company, over their decision to deny coverage for business interruptions during the pandemic. The insurance companies have been contacted for comment.

With courts across the country dismissing business interruption cases, this settlement represents an extraordinary exception under California law, according to a press release on the settlement.

Former mayors Willie Brown, left, and Gavin Newsom flank PR guru Lee Houskeeper at a past election day luncheon at John's Grill. I Photo by Mike Koozmin, courtesy of Lee Houskeeper

In the early days of the pandemic, as restaurants faced financial ruin from mandatory closures, many insurers issued blanket denials of claims for business interruption losses, the release said.

When John’s Grill owner, John Konstin’s claims were denied, he hired law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, which filed a lawsuit in April 2020.

Two-and-a-half years later, the Ellis Street bar is one of the few policyholders to obtain a settlement from a major insurer in Covid-19 business interruption litigation. The terms of the settlement are not being released.

A group gathers for a Mid-Term Election Day event at John's Grill in San Francisco on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. | Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

Konstin said: “Covid was and continues to be incredibly disruptive to the hospitality industry. The restaurant closures were unprecedented and gravely impacted the livelihood of those working at restaurants. The donation to the Foundation of the City College of San Francisco will support students in their pursuit of being a part of the city’s culinary heartbeat.”

Joe Cotchett, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, said: “Hartford recognized that they had a serious legal problem which could go nationwide and open up many more lawsuits.”

A public announcement on the settlement will be made at 11 a.m. Friday at John’s Grill.