Neighborhood restaurants are struggling to get by

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

Last week, Lavaca and Friends spoke with staff at more than forty neighborhood restaurants, identifying which ones were open and learning how neighbors could order and receive meals from them. That information is reported on the Restaurants page of our web site.

This week, we reached out again to those restaurants, asking how they are coping with the sudden shutdown, how it has affected their business, whether they have had to lay off staff, and if they’re worried about survival.

We got answers from eleven of those restaurants: Azuca Sabor Latino, Bamboo, Blue Star Brewing Company, Cherrity Bar, Cinnaholic, Dakota East Side Ice House, La Tuna Grill, South Alamode Panini and Gelato, Stella Public House / Halcyon, Sukeban Sushi and Champagne Bar, and Tony G’s Soul Food.

Worries about survival

All but two of the restaurants we spoke with are worried about survival.

Seven of them reported that their revenues are down 75% or more. Three said their revenue was down about 50%.

Anna Dortman, at La Tuna, had thought the year was off to a great start. 'We had a mild winter and thought 2020 was going to be a great year,' she told us, 'but now this is like our winter months.'

Revenues are down by seventy-five percent or more for the majority of neighborhood restaurants.

Only one place — Bamboo, which is located on the ground floor of an apartment building — has kept its revenue drop under one-third. Austin Soto, the manager, reports that Bamboo’s revenue was down quite a bit at the start, but he says that things have since improved, thanks to ‘loyal customers.’ Nonetheless, he knows that things could change.

Meanwhile, he says that Bamboo has been trying to share its good fortune by offering discounts to restaurant workers and first responders.

Diletta Gallorini, who, along with Josh Biffel, owns South Alamode Panini and Gelato, told us ‘we feel really lucky, all our regulars have been super supportive. It’s probably too soon to talk about revenue drops, but this month we will able to pay our rent, our loan and most important, our employees. We decided to stay open an extra day and limited our hours, so we are basically working more to break even, but it's all good! It is what it is— that's our motto.’

Chef Macy at Sukeban Sushi and Champagne Bar told us he’s not worried about survival, ‘but thanks for asking.’

Other worries

Of course, a drop in business affects staff, too.

Five of the restaurants we contacted told us that they’ve laid off all their staff, while only four — South Alamode, La Tuna, Bamboo, and Cherrity Bar— reported keeping everyone on board, although staff hours may have been reduced.

Fixed costs, like rent, aren’t going away. That worries nearly everyone.

And fixed costs, like rent, aren’t going away. That worries nearly everyone.

Landlords and banks haven’t been particularly helpful so far.

Some landlords have specifically declined to help.

A couple of landlords have said they’ll forgo late fees if the rent is paid within thirty days. One owner told us that he has written a letter to his landlord asking for help and proposing some terms, but he hasn’t heard back yet; however, he’s hopeful, because his landlord has been reasonable in the past.

As for banks, again, some have specifically declined to offer any help. On the other hand, Cinnaholic says their bank has been in touch to give them information about possible SBA loan options, but notes that ‘the banks are still waiting on guidelines for the Payroll Protection Program.’

Some suppliers have stepped up, doing things like reducing minimum order requirements. One pork supplier has donated meat to a restaurant’s staff, helping staff to get by, and a bread supplier — Bread Box — has donated bread for one of the restaurants to deliver to the homeless.

Most of the restaurants have had to make adjustments to how they do business, like simplifying their menus or adding grocery items to their offerings. Gallorini says that South Alamode worked rapidly to revise its website to reflect changes in how they are operating.

Neighborhood support

Restaurants were pretty much unanimous about how neighbors can help: Order food. And, several added, please tip our staff well.

‘We are happy and grateful to have our store in your neighborhood,’

‘The community has been very supportive and we hear comments often about being thankful that we have stayed open,’ says Ben Reedy, the owner of Cinnaholic.

Kent Oliver at Dakota East Side Ice House says ‘The community has been great. They've tipped really well to the staff bringing food to the car.’

Maggie Villarreal of Blue Star Brewing Company told us that she and her husband ‘have never worked harder in the years of owning our business as we have in these days. It kind of feels like when we were first putting our business together in the early 1990's and when we first opened. I am worried for our livelihood, of course, with all that we have invested, but we also worry for the well being of our employees … One comfort — and that's not really the right word — is that we are all in this together. I don't know anyone who's breathing easy right now.’

‘We are happy and grateful to have our store in your neighborhood,’ said South Alamode’s Gallorini. ‘Thank you for your support and be safe!’