A couple of weeks ago, chef-owner Daniel Bojorquez and his staff at La Brasa and Fat Hen were excited. For all that was going on with the coronavirus, there was reason for optimism: They were on the verge of spring, graduation and wedding season was imminent, everyone could feel the energy. Then things started changing very rapidly, and ….
“On this past Saturday [March 20], I closed the restaurants,” says Bojorquez.
Now he and his wife Emily are the only official staff remaining, but handling all the details of temporarily shuttering a sizable restaurant operation is keeping them busy—not the least of which is contacting everyone who had scheduled functions with them and figuring out the next step.
“People have been planning for over a year now, and now those are either rescheduled or not happening at all,” Bojorquez says. “Graduations, functions, parties with the weather getting warmer—all that is not going to happen now.
“But obviously, the biggest hit is on the employees,” he adds. “You have to do the best you can for the staff, help them to be able to carry themselves through this time.”
Letting his staff go gave them the option to file for unemployment, he says, and he’s been helping provide the documentation they need to do that, though he says some of them are still trying to pick up whatever jobs they can before they decide to file for benefits. His restaurants aren’t doing any kind of food service right now, such as takeaway or delivery meals, because he doesn’t think that would be sustainable given what it costs in utilities to run his kitchen.
“It’s really just me and my wife trying to figure out what’s next for the business,” he says. “It’s a lot of things.”
Asked how he’s doing, Bojorquez says with a laugh that he’s holding on.
“Right now I’m still in shock, and I’m trying to find different ways to keep La Brasa present through social media, and trying to figure out what projects are smart right now in order to stay active,” he says. “I’m hopeful the government will do something to help the situation. I don’t see any other way out of this.”
One thing Bojorquez is doing is keeping in touch with other chefs around the city, to talk about “the mechanics of the restaurant business” and find ways to be proactive and support each other and their staffs. He’s also keeping tabs on the various predictions of when there might be an easing of the need for social distancing and isolation, but says he’s taking many of the predictions with a grain of salt.
“RIght now the government is saying April 6 ot 7, but that’s very hard to believe,” he says. “Watching the news, talking to people, seeing what’s happening in Europe and in Asia, I don’t think that is what’s going to happen here. I just hope I’m wrong.”
One thing that may come out of this, he says, is that it might really get through to people just how narrow the margins are in the restaurant business, and just how quickly a downturn in business can cause problems.
“Really, restaurants are a labor of love, pretty much,” he said. “It’s a difficult situation. I really hope things are going to get better. They have to get better.
“It’s a big, big thing for sure,” says Bojorquez. “That’s kind of what’s in my head right now.”
Like what you’re reading? Consider supporting Scout on Patreon!