Asked if his restaurant can survive, Mike Andrzejewski held out his arms to show how big the problem is.
His restaurant Cantina Loco is in a prime location, at the corner of Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue. But the bar is empty, the chairs upended on tables in the darkened dining room.
As a to-go operation, all they’re using is the kitchen and takeout counter. While paying rent on hundreds of square feet of prime real estate they cannot use, as gatherings such as restaurant crowds have been banned to protect the community.
“We’re basically a food truck,” he said, measuring out the space with his wingspan. “You can obviously do tacos on a food truck, as our friends over at Lloyd have proven, but you can't sustain all of your other expenses.”
Restaurants still have to pay insurance premiums, utilities and taxes levied on going concerns. New York restaurant owners have gotten a temporary reprieve on turning in sales tax, but that only relieves pressure for the moment.
They’re paying Maserati prices for real estate when the business can only do Chevette volume.
Andrejewski loves his landlord, so they might be able to work out a deal. Most restaurateurs wish they could say likewise.
What can people do to help?
Keep drinking. Alcohol is a profit center for restaurants. Under relaxed alcohol sales rules, restaurants can now offer takeout alcohol, as long as it’s sold with food. As the quarantine proceeds in coming weeks, customers can buy delivered or takeout drinks to support their neighborhood establishments.
Cantina Loco has started offering $4 margaritas, a container of tequila and lime juice and triple sec – and minced jalapeño in the spicy number – along with a cup of ice and a lime wedge. Or you could throw in a cold can of Tecate to your pork belly burrito for $1.
Look at what places are offering on Facebook. Belsito on Hertel will bring you all manner of intoxicating beverages, as will a great number of their colleagues.
The Buffalo News is maintaining a list of places offering food and drink services, at BuffaloNews.com/open.
Trying to survive
Down the street at Allen Burger Venture, in a silent room with stools upended on tables, partner Dino DeBell was watching takeout burgers and fries get packed. He was trying to figure out how his business was going to survive.
Even with a restaurant stripped down to a cook, him in front, and an assistant, Allen Burger Venture needs to bring in $700 a day, or they’re losing money to open, DeBell explained.
In Depew, on Transit Road, a second-generation restaurateur was trying to figure out how to save the family business. At the Italian Village, 6354 Transit Road, John Balcone carries on the business his parents Giovanni and Fifa, immigrants from Sicily, started in 1977.
“We have to take it day by day and see how it goes, but we can't give up,” he said. Regulars have called to say they’ll come by for pickup.
“Everything, in any way, to tell me that they're going to be there to support us,” Balcone said. “You know what, whenever I start to lose faith in humanity, things like this happen. It reminds me that, you know, that kindness still exists.”
Who knows what the world will look like in a week? But some things will never change, he said.
“Loyalty is so important in this work,” Balcone said. “If we don't have that, we have nothing.”
Would you tell restaurant customers, now is the time to show who your real friends are? “Absolutely,” Balcone said.
“One thousand percent. Friendship and loyalty, and I always give back.”