Many people come in and ask, “How are you guys doing?” They mean, how are the COVID lockdowns affecting our business. They often comment that they don’t want to “see us go”. We always preface that we count ourselves blessed in comparison to other restaurateurs throughout the world! We’ll take government requirements for shoe sanitation over a total closure any day!
Looking back, Season 4 of 2019/20 was turning out to be an epic year! We were busy every night, sometimes too busy! We had just invested a good chunk of our savings (and higher rent) to open our new addition, bar A Z U L, taking on the adjacent retail space of the restaurant. We were jumping! But by the end of March, it got slower and slower, quieter and quieter. By April 1st, we were shut down. Only takeout could be offered. Then no alcohol could be sold. After a week, we sent the staff home because it was so slow. We opened for takeout 3 days out of the week to try to consolidate our efforts and minimize our utility expenses.
Our neighbors and friends in Loreto Bay were so amazingly supportive. They ordered takeout as often as they could. They sent money to keep the staff paid. But by then, a wedding event booked in July for 55 people cancelled. By June, we were closed for the season (a month and a half earlier than normal). Our summer trip to Italy, cancelled. There is no unemployment or stimulus packages in Mexico. Thankfully, we were able to pay staff salaries during shut down through July. Our landlord helped us with rent concessions, which would have killed us otherwise. For this we are extremely grateful.
It’s now one year and counting, March 2021, vaccines are being distributed, business is beginning to pick up. But it’s still only about half of what it would normally be. We can operate at 50% capacity while having the burden and additional expense of maintaining shoe disinfection mats for the staff, hand sanitizers stations, disinfectant sprays, extra printer paper and toner for disposable menus (no one wants to use a touch-less menu QR code on their phone), and face masks when people forget theirs.
It’s added stress when guests expect you to have all your wines by the glass, but then they just go to waste when business is so slow. Or running out of a particular dish one night because business is so inconsistent. These are some of the things we struggle with, but our guests may not consider or understand. We have learned to be less critical of ourselves, although this is hard when you want to be your very best for your patrons.
But on a positive note, the AZUL team is healthy and we are thankful for that. A restaurant’s ecosystem will forever be altered. Takeout meals and our BODEGA “Heat & Eat” pre-order food items have kept us going many weeks. We are happy we can provide business to the local fisherman, purveyors, farmers, etc. Let’s face it, the restaurant industry has been hit hard no matter which country you operate in. We’re fortunate that we still have a restaurant to come into every day! Even though we had to cut back a few staff members vs. this time last year, we still have our doors open and the majority of our team is back to work. We are even able to begin cross-training and promoting associates as they accept additional responsibility!
It’s a blessing that the community asks how we are doing. It means they care. We plan to persevere and come back stronger and better. We are using the extra time to work on new dishes, and possibly new ventures. We believe (and hope) the best is yet to come!