Latino restaurants, after Covid struggles, welcome Cinco de Mayo

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LOS ANGELES – At La Chupería, a family-run Mexican restaurant, Stephanie Sanchez, 32, is delighted to welcome customers Wednesday for Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

“We have a lot of people who are newbies who haven’t been out in a year,” Sanchez said. “We want them to feel at home; we want people to feel safe. I like to let people know, don’t worry if the tables are sticky, that’s not a bad thing. We are the ones who are constantly disinfecting tables to keep everyone safe. ”

Across the country, restaurateurs and Latino employees are hoping the nationwide rollout of the vaccine and the easing of some Covid-19 restrictions will bring more customers – and much-needed revenue to their hard-hit businesses.

The Covid-19 crisis hit small Latin American businesses particularly hard, but a Stanford University study found Latin American business owners had their PPP loans approved at half the rate for owned businesses. to whites. Additionally, many businesses have felt the impact of the pandemic firsthand, as illnesses and deaths from Covid-19 have disproportionately hit Latinos, including young Hispanics.

La Chupería co-owner Ulysses Leal, 33, who now runs the restaurant his father opened, said the navigation restrictions were difficult for the company and its employees. “We had to be creative. We have changed our menu to add more food items for take out orders. The family was into it. I jumped into the kitchen in a way I had never done before. Unfortunately, we had to give up the majority of our workers, “Leal said.” We couldn’t keep everyone, but we did our best to secure them temporary jobs. We have kept a good relationship with them and most of them are back. “

In El Paso, Texas, the L&J Cafe, which has been operating since 1927, closed at the start of the pandemic for two months and reduced its staff from 115 to three employees.

“We thought we had just about everything under our belt except the pandemic,” said Leo Duran, 68, the owner. “Our grandparents went into business in 1927, so they missed the last pandemic in 1918, by about nine years. We’ve been through the Great Depression, WWII, all conflicts, Korea, Vietnam , the other depression in 2008. … But the pandemic was a whole new ball game for everyone.

El Paso has been one of the regions hardest hit by the pandemic. In November, the National Guard was mobilized to help work in overflowing morgues as the state battled an increase in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

“It was difficult to catch our breath. We all wear several hats. Our servers are doing more than they have ever done before, “said Duran.” We are grateful to provide what we believe is always an excellent level of customer service. I think we’re all just happy to be, you know, in the ball game, but it took its toll, quite frankly.

Recover losses, balance worker safety concerns

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 restaurant establishments in the United States closed their doors – temporarily or permanently – last year and nearly 2.5 million jobs were lost. Sales in the restaurant and foodservice industry fell $ 240 billion in 2020, from an expected level of $ 899 billion.

Security measures, including a ban on in-person meals, have prompted many restaurants to switch to curbside pickup. Changes in the guidelines for catering have resulted in the final closure of restaurants by the end of 2020.

“Restaurant owners told us that relying solely on take-out and deliveries would mean staff cuts of up to 90%,” said Lilly Rocha, president of the Latino Restaurant Association.

For restaurant employees who are still working or for those returning to work, there is also the issue of safety.

“We have worked hard to push for a vaccine rollout in targeted areas with workers in key sectors like the food industry,” said Christian Castro, of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who represents a a large part of the kitchen and food workers.

The federation administered nearly 8,000 doses of the vaccine to workers and their families in Los Angeles County, traveling to areas where many food workers live, such as Pico Union, and partnering with institutions such as Cal State Los Angeles.

Castro noted that reports have surfaced within the union of undocumented workers who feared that providing information for vaccinations could lead to deportations. “We are trying to let everyone know that this vaccine is for everyone,” he said.

At La Chupería de Los Angeles, the key to the opening and the celebration, especially for Cinco de Mayo, has been staying on top of changes in guidelines for business and on vaccinations.

“We check the city’s emails every day to make sure everyone is safe, and we’re working hard to make sure our staff are vaccinated,” Leal said. “This year we have faced enormous economic uncertainty, but we are ready and excited. to open our doors to Cinco de Mayo. ”

“We want people to join us”

Award-winning chef Cristina Martinez and her husband, Ben Miller, owners of South Philly Barbacoa and The People’s Kitchen in Philadelphia, quarantined themselves at their restaurant when the pandemic hit their south Philadelphia neighborhood.

“A lot of restaurants were closed, but we were able to stay on solid footing,” Miller said.

For Martinez, who is from Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a day of festivities. “We want people to join us. We just need to take the right steps to ensure social distancing, people wearing masks and making sure our workers don’t let their guard down with these practices.”

“We had to work a lot harder, but we have learned a lot from this pandemic,” Martinez said. “Latin American businesses have conserved their energy and hope these circumstances will change.”

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