Business & Real Estate

Restaurants cope amid lockdown – with varying degrees of success

Jan Unlu
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Jan Unlu, owner of La Scala on First Street in Los Altos, serves customers at his new “drive-thru” window. Unlu has been working to incentivize customers to choose his restaurant on their essential trips out.

Restaurateurs felt the immediate blow of loss of sales and the pressure to adapt to a new service model in the first few weeks that the coronavirus began to spread in Santa Clara County.

Now, they are experiencing varying levels of financial and emotional support thanks to customers, local leaders and federal aid.

When the county enacted its initial shelter-in-place order March 16, 1 Oz Coffee on Castro Street in Mountain View experienced a 90% sales drop, founder Yulia Kolchanova said. The shop quickly transitioned to online orders for pickup and delivery to stabilize operations, and Kolchanova applied for federal Economic Injury Disaster and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. She has yet to secure the funding, and said the future of her shop rests on how long the lockdown lasts.

“I think we can survive this way another month or two without generating profit,” she said. “This slow money bleeding is to keep our baristas employed and doors open for the community seeking ‘normal routine.’”

Sales at the Sandwich Spot on El Camino Real in Mountain View are down 50%, largely due to reduced foot traffic from surrounding businesses whose employees are now working from home, said the chain’s owners Vinny and Christina Ferrando. The Ferrandos applied for a loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and for other small grants, but so far have not received funding. They are determined to remain in business after the quarantine is over.

Maison Alyzee owner Laurent Pellet fears that some customers don’t even know his Castro Street bakery is open. Pellet applied for a PPP loan the day the portal opened and has yet to hear back.

“We definitely need more support and more customers to survive,” he said.

Adjusting to
the new normal

Sales are so low for La Scala owner Jan Unlu that he created a new to-go menu and installed a drive-thru window at his restaurant on First Street in Los Altos, an incentive for those who are not interested in curbside pickup. Unlu has applied for SBA and PPP funding and does not know the status of either application.

“How are small businesses going to survive with no business, (soon expected to be) paying their rents or mortgages?” he wrote in an email to the Town Crier.

A few restaurants have found their footing amid the new normal.

Sales at Eureka on Castro Street in Mountain View are consistent, according to marketing director Alexia Penna. She said the eatery “really hopes” to stay open after the shelter-in-place restrictions are eased. The restaurant has not been able to secure small-business funding.

Lars Smith, owner of State of Mind Pizzeria and Public House on Plaza North in Los Altos, reported that business remains stable. He said he believes he will stay open over the long run and expects a PPP loan to be coming through soon from the second bank he’s worked with to obtain one.

“We have been brought to tears on multiple occasions during the (shelter-in-place) by the kind words and generosity of our customers,” Smith said. “We have put our hearts and souls into this business, and it is an incredible feeling to be appreciated by so many customers.”

Even though State of Mind is holding its own, Smith and his fellow restaurant owners are calling on local leaders to continue their efforts in securing more funding for the small business community as a whole.

“I hope city leaders have seen the value that small businesses add to the community and how fragile many are,” Smith said. “I hope moving forward that city governments and small businesses can have more amicable relationships and that when opening a small business, we may get more support (from) local leaders than we did before this.”

Many local restaurants are offering discounts and special promotions including family meals, new desserts, gift boxes and meal kits. For more information, visit the linked websites.

For the Town Crier’s lists of open eateries in Los Altos and Mountain View, visit our "Open for Business" box on the homepage at losaltosonline.com.

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