Stay home and shelter-in-place orders have swept the nation to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As businesses closed their doors, many peopl faced tough decisions that arose when they lost their financial stability. It’s easy to talk about preparing for the worst, but a worldwide pandemic is not something you can easily prepare for, let alone even imagine.
There are many government resources for small businesses, but who gets approved for them, and how? What happens afterwards? For many small business owners, their respective staffs were paid for the first two weeks of the quarantine. But now, as June approaches and financial institutions have depleted all their resources, it’s clear that owning a business is becoming a liability.
Catching up with Rana Marie Shalhoub, owner and chef at Crave Cafe in Studio City, California, we caught a real-life glimpse into the financial hardships endured and the tough decisions restaurant owners have made during the pandemic.
Tell me a little bit about you, and Crave Cafe. How long have you been running it and give me some insight to the obstacles of getting to have a restaurant and your age and working in Los Angeles.
I started working at Crave about 6 years ago, starting off in the prep cook position because I had little to no experience in a professional kitchen. At the time, a lot of my current kitchen staff were male and wary of giving me tasks. After several months of proving my passion for cooking and learning about the restaurant business, I was working on the line and helping create recipes.
A few months later and I was helping baristas, asking to learn about coffee, communicating with management so they knew my passion about the business. It took several more months, and introducing my mom to the business, for her and I to decide to purchase Crave. From then on it was even more of an uphill battle, working in a restaurant is of course vastly different from owning one. My mom got involved in every job at the restaurant, asking me to teach her how to do everything from making soups to taking orders. Throughout it all, my base kitchen staff has been staffed with the same people, and those that have been with us throughout our journey are all incredibly valued. Each and every experience we have at our business is exemplary of our passion and dedication.
Tell me about your thought process while COVID-19 closures began and the spread of the virus, from the perspective of a business owner.
At first, I was more concerned for my staff and their exposure to the virus. I still am. After seeing how much the closures affected essential workers like nurses, doctors, shelter volunteers, and the like, my mom and I focused our energy on making sure our community was fed and that they knew we were there for them.
How much did Crave change in operation during the closures? Did you lay off employees or send anyone home?
We normally have a 50+ person staff during our operating hours, which is 24/7. Now, we close our doors at midnight on weekdays and 2am on weekends. Our staff has been cut down to just our management, as we don’t want to endanger our employees. We used the closure to begin renovating our space, since being open 24/7 prevents us from updating in the way we wanted to. While we did have to temporarily lay off a lot of our staff, they know they are welcome to reach out to us for any food or help they may need at this time.
Has Crave applied for any of the government financial resources?
We have the paycheck protection program. Sadly we have not received any assistance from the government and it’s financial resources.
What is the cost of staying open, and is it almost easier to close doors?
Aside from my mom and I not paying ourselves anymore, we make just enough to make sure our working staff are paid. To us, the cost of staying open is always less than it would be for us to close. Crave is valued as a constant in our community, we will always try to stay open and available for them. During the first month and a half of quarantine we donated free and fresh falafel every single day to local (and even not so local) hospitals, homeless shelters, and patrons just passing by. We lost a lot of profit doing this, but it sometimes is not about profit. We wanted to feed our community and make sure our essential workers knew we cared.
How do you see the restaurant functioning as opening phases begin this summer?
Honestly, we are scared to fully open. We clean often, sanitizer between customers, and offer things like curbside pickup to make sure our customers and staff know we are keeping everything safe. Our employees have families, my mom is at risk and so is my father. Despite all this, we will try to safely operate Crave as long as we can. We are not sure if that means we will allow people to eat without masks in the restaurant, but we are willing to abide by the government’s guidelines.
During COVID-19, small businesses have been community pillars supporting their neighborhoods. In these difficult times, these businesses are often the first to feel the negative economic effects, looking shutdowns right in the eye. Crave Cafe has stayed open, even with a profit loss, in order to supply their community and employees with essentials such as food and a living wage.
We at Capsule recognize the importance of small businesses and want to support them anyway we can and appreciate Ms. Shalhoub and not only her monumental effort and perseverance, but also the time she took to speak with us today!