Author: Mike Caputi, owner of Daily Planet Coffee Company, 1862 Hertel Avenue
There are a lot of people writing about the struggle of local restaurants lately. Most of what I’ve read is just that many places are doing take out. I haven’t seen any real articles revealing what it’s actually like to be forced to lose 60-80 percent of your business by circumstances beyond your control. I know that this sacrifice may save lives, and that’s vitally important to me, and to us all.
But I also know what it’s like to have the dream of opening a wonderful place where people enjoy good food and beverages. I know the investment of time, sweat, anxiety, and cash, which it takes to open a restaurant. I also know first hand how precarious the operation of that business can be.
You put everything you have into something and then have no choice but to entrust your venture to employees who you hope have some of the same dedication and commitment, and sometimes they do.
In the meantime a restaurant is about the only business where customer reviews are very important. And just one or two dissatisfied customers can write scathing reviews, sometimes unfairly, or inaccurately, which can cause major harm to the business. For the most part, these people have no idea how hard you worked and how much their criticism hurts, they don’t know what you sacrifice to make it work. It’s often times very one sided, and trying to address the problem is virtually impossible. The customer that writes the scathing review moves on with his or her life, leaving the business owner at a loss literally and figuratively.
I’ve known a number of owners who after working shifts at their own business also work another job just to keep their heads above water. I know a few who stay, after employees leave, and after closing late at night, to do repairs and maintenance. I am one of those people.
So after some mistakes, and lessons learned, you find a few good people, and manage to pay the bills, and keep your head above water, and survive new competitors, and national chains, and maybe pocket your 3-7% profit. That’s 3-7% of the 300-600k in sales on average. Most small restaurants never hit the magic number of 1 million in sales. Most never make it to their 3rd year in business, but a few do.
Finally after all this, something comes along, the coronavirus, COVID-19, which requires you to offer take-out if you can. In other words, cut sales to somewhere between 10-30% of previous sales. Nobody cuts your rent, your utilities, loan payments, your mortgage. Nobody says food will be cheaper. Yes you can cut a few things, one being some of those wonderful people who’ve taken years to find. People you worry may never come back. You worry if you will survive this, you wonder if you will be able to keep treading water long enough for this to pass. So while we all worry about our health, and the health of our friends and family. Only some of us, in addition to potential health problems, also must worry about our financial survival.
So that’s what it’s really like.
And yes there are some stories of wonderful people showing up and buying extra just to help you out. There are employees who offer to volunteer cutting their own hours. And some who bring their families in to get pick-up, or message their classmates, to help generate business. Yes there are feel good stories, but there is the other side as well. The very scary reality of the potential of total financial ruin, not just losing your money, and your primary source of income, and something you’ve dedicated your life to, but losing the dream that began it all.
I hope we all make it to the other side, but I’m sure some great places will not be here in 3 months.
I hope I’m not one of the casualties.