“It is like giving aspirin to cancer.” This is how the Argentine entrepreneur Santiago Olivera explains the situation facing chefs and haute cuisine entrepreneurs in Latin America, who have seen how COVID-19 has affected their restaurants, generating losses and turning their homes into a mere palliative.
The coronavirus has prevented the gastronomy sector in the region from reactivating due to quarantines imposed by governments.
In Colombia, Peru, Brazil or Argentina, it has been decided to move haute cuisine to homes with profits of 10%, which are not enough to pay leases, suppliers, employees, public services and debts, forcing some to turn off the stoves of their kitchens.
“WE CLOSE TWO AND GO THROUGH THE THIRD”
To visit Palermo in Buenos Aires today is to find closed premises and signs that read “SE RENT”. This is the case of Olivera, who had to dismantle his second Bad Toro restaurant on June 25.
“There are already 100 days of quarantine and with each month that passed since the debt increased more. Here the services arrived as if the premises were open. Today we have already closed two and we are on track to close the third,” he says.
The losses already reach 4 million Argentine pesos (56,874 dollars / 50,493 euros), this added to paying 50% of the salary to its employees, since the law prohibited quarantine from dismissing workers.
He also had to speak with the owners of the premises to negotiate the payment of rents that range between 200,000 to 400,000 Argentine pesos (2,800 to 6,000 dollars / from 2,485 to 5,327 euros).
The homes only generate between 5 and 11% of turnover and Olivera believes that “a second wave of important closings will follow when they allow us to reopen formally.”
ADDRESSES: AN EXERCISE
In Peru, the issue of domiciles is considered “an exercise”, according to chef Jaime Pesaque, owner of Mayta, in Lima.
“The first weeks I said: ‘I am not going to do it because my restaurant does not have that spirit, because there is a theme of hospitality, service, an in-house local experience’, but as the days went by it was decided to make the theme delivery in a different way. “
Mayta, who entered in number 49 in the list of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America in 2019, developed a strategy to bring diners closer to her kitchen.
“Just heat up the food and you would receive a piece of paper explaining what you had to do and a video where I would finish (the preparation) and how you had to do it”, so that the client feels part of the team from the chef.
The restaurant, which lives in 75% of tourism and has 28 employees, made Pesaque go from obtaining 120 covers, with a cost of 35 to 40 dollars (from 31 to 35 euros) to between 15 or 20 orders with a 10 at 15% profit.
The chef resorted to government loans with Reactiva Peru and the owners of the premises reduced his rent by 75% for 8 months.
This July 1 the quarantine ended and Virgilio Martínez, chef of Central, the second among the 50 best and the sixth in the world, has waited for the government’s gun to reactivate his business with 40% (15 to 17 people) capacity. .
“Deliverys do not generate a lot of profit and are not sustainable for restaurants. In our case, we will open as is the restaurant that it was, for which we have equipped and created ourselves,” he says.
Martínez is already organizing Central and Mayo with the biosafety protocols “without losing the experience” it offers, in the midst of the crisis that has hit his team (150 employees), calculating 500,000 dollars (443,863 euros) in losses.
MORE THAN AN ALTERNATIVE, A CHALLENGE
“A challenge”, this is how chef Telma Shiraishi describes the transformation of Aizomê, a 13-year-old Japanese restaurant located in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the country with the highest number of infections and deaths from COVID-19 in Latin America.
Shiraishi is one of the few women in charge of Japanese food in the country, and in addition to the addresses to support her restaurant that has two units, one in the Jardins district and the other in the Japan House São Paulo cultural center ( led by the Government of Japan), which closed entirely, now brings food to the favelas.
“We are cooking for poor people, for the homeless, so one kitchen is dedicated to homes and the other to humanitarian actions,” he explained.
The chef who last year received the title of Ambassador for the Promotion of Japanese Culture and Cuisine, awarded by the Japanese Government, said that “they are fortunate” to have the support of that country and the loyalty of its customers.
“The addresses pay part of the debts and now we are talking to the providers, looking at taxes and other services because we are all in a difficult situation,” he said.
She still does not know when Aizomê will be reactivated and the focus is on “security for its clients and work team”, as well as the way in which they will manage the spaces, since the average number of clients before the pandemic was 200 to 300 and now working 6 days a week is on 100-200 orders.
“The cost is high and the prices have dropped so the profit is less,” in addition to paying one real for rent, 10,000 reais ($ 1,900 / 1,686 euros).
COLOMBIA SHUTS OFF THE CABINS
The addresses were not the lifeline for Harry Sasson’s French bistro Balzac, which closed on June 22, nor for Mark and Jorge Rausch, who were saying goodbye to five of their restaurants in Colombia due to the pandemic.
Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos with his foundation and El Cielo restaurant with offices in Bogotá, Medellín, Washington and Miami, has only had profits of 8 to 15%.
“When you have employees, 12 establishments and building 5 more, it is a cash flow that, although it helps, is not a 100% profit flow,” he explained.
Adapting the food meant that the quality management of the product had to be treated in such a way that it was not affected at the time of delivery, he explains: “We already know the ranges of temperature loss per square kilometer around the premises and in our case goes up to 6 kms “.
Barrientos had to do without 150 employees out of a total of 300, in addition to calculating 5,000 million losses (1.3 million dollars / 1,153,885 euros).
The chef, like many others, has sent messages to President Iván Duque regarding “the need to open now” and to allow him to work in a sector with 2,500,000 formal, informal and indirect jobs, of which 1,000,000 have already been lost. .
“When you come to a restaurant, you come to a table that was disinfected, some cutlery that has been dipped with a hypochlorite solution and it has already been proven by the WHO that with food you do not get COVID,” he said.
The government only approved a pilot plan for the gradual reopening of restaurants in municipalities where there are no infections from July 1.
“We are not in reinvention mode, we are in survival mode,” he said.
LUCK AND DIFFERENT DYNAMICS
The issue in the US has generated other types of dynamics with addresses, as in the case of Ezequiel Vázquez, the owner of Seven Reasons, in Washington, highlighted by the ranking of The Washington Post for the best restaurant in the city.
In their case they adapted the menu and the presentation of their dishes with the “take out”, along with a practical guide: “We explained how to reheat the food, we attached thank you letters, we shared the Spotify list of the premises and how to set the scene table and house. “
In addition, to build customer loyalty, they created a database of 25,000 people who told them about the day-to-day life of the restaurant in the midst of the pandemic, “so closing was not an option, as we would lose between 30,000 and 40,000 dollars a week” (from 26,617 at 35,489 euros).
Now Seven Reasons has accommodated itself to biosecurity requirements by hosting 45 diners from the 90s who regularly attended.
“We won’t be 100% again. You have to adjust.”
Carolina Arrows Anzola