COVID-19

The challenges of opening a restaurant during a pandemic

David Weinberg Dec 24, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Restaurateur Gabriel Paredes and his staff transformed the parking lot behind the restaurant into an outdoor dining space with wood walls and multiple levels. Richard Hozack
COVID-19

The challenges of opening a restaurant during a pandemic

David Weinberg Dec 24, 2020
Restaurateur Gabriel Paredes and his staff transformed the parking lot behind the restaurant into an outdoor dining space with wood walls and multiple levels. Richard Hozack
HTML EMBED:
COPY

On a recent Wednesday night in Highland Park, a neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles, the head chef at Nativo, Danielle Duran-Zecca, was in the kitchen putting the final touches on a potato chorizo taco before handing it off to a server. 

Duran-Zecca designed the menu here, which features an array of dishes that combines the flavors of Mexico and Italy. “I am a Mexican, my husband is Italian. So I love to combine the best of both worlds,” said Duran-Zecca.

Out back, the parking lot had been transformed into a dining space with wood walls and multiple levels. Mexican blankets were draped over bales of hay for seating. A young couple with a baby was taking selfies underneath a spinning disco ball hanging from a tree, as the bar manager Grace Perez strolled by holding a bundle of burning sage. “I feel like we all need a cleansing sometimes,” Perez said, with a laugh.

The vibe is festive, but there’s an undercurrent of sadness and uncertainty among the staff. Because tonight is the last night of dining before a countywide ban on outdoor dining brings a sudden end to what had been an opening week of full reservations.

“My wife and I, we sold everything to make this come true,” said Gabriel Paredes, choking back tears. “Sorry, I feel silly getting emotional about it.”

Gabriel Paredes in front of Nativo, the restaurant he and his wife opened in the neighborhood where he grew up.
Gabriel Paredes in front of Nativo, the restaurant he and his wife opened in the neighborhood where he grew up. (Credit: Richard Hozack)

Paredes and his wife, Corissa Hernandez Paredes, are the owners of Nativo.

It means a lot to Paredes that he was able to open his own restaurant here in the neighborhood where he grew up. His parents came to LA from Mexico before he was born. As a kid, he walked the streets of Highland Park with his dad, selling boots to make ends meet. “I’ve had friends get killed on this street we are on, and it’s just awesome to come back and be able to create jobs and contribute,” Paredes said.

Before the outdoor dining ban, he had a staff of about 40 people. Prior to opening Nativo, Peredes and and his wife started a financial planning company that they ran for 14 years.

“Our market was low- to middle-income families that had been overlooked by the financial industry. So we really focused on educating them on finances. Just couldn’t do it though. It wasn’t my passion. The only other thing I knew how to do or really understood was beer. I didn’t go to college. so I said ‘Let’s open up a bar of some sort,’” said Paredes.

Paredes modeled the color of Nativo on Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Mexico City.
Paredes modeled the color of Nativo’s exterior on Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico City. (Credit: Richard Hozack)

He knows the risk of opening a restaurant, and that the stakes are much higher for people like himself who don’t have the economic safety net of generational wealth.

“People in my age group, we are not only taking care of our kids but we are also taking care of our parents, he said.

Paredes said he pays his parents’ mortgage on a condo. He sold his childhood home to open Nativo. So a lot is riding on his restaurant.

“If you don’t hit your dream, you are done and you won’t be able to support your parents and the people that are relying on you, such as kids,” he said.

For now, Nativo is offering takeout only, which allows Paredes to at least keep the kitchen staff employed until outdoor dining can resume.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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