LOS ANGELES — As restaurant owner Andrea Borgen Abdallah sat typing at the bar top of Barcito & Bodega in Downtown Los Angeles, she was constantly reminded that her work these days is worlds away from what it was a year ago.
“It’s so different," she said. "I mean I still work shifts here, but I spend so much time on my computer now.”
What You Need To Know
- Andrea Borgen Abdallah is the owner and general manager of Barcito & Bodega in downtown L.A.
- Due to the challenges of the pandemic and to ensure the restaurant's survival, she has been withholding rent for the last nine months
- In an attempt to organize other independent owners who might be dealing with the same challenges, she created a campaign called No Relief, No Rent
- The goal of the movement is to push local government to provide aid to independent owners that will help them secure stability longterm
It's not just her personal work flow that has changed over the last year — it's the work flow of the restaurant as a whole.
What once was a neighborhood cafe and cocktail bar is now a bodega and bottle shop. Rather than pivoting to an outdoor model, Borgen Abdallah felt this was the most sustainable idea for her and her employees.
"For us, outdoor never felt like it was going to be reliable or sustainable enough," she said. "I think we were interested in sticking with something that felt leaner and more executable. Plus, I certainly, as a small business that’s been trying to survive this, couldn’t reconcile making that investment in the PPE [and] the infrastructure outdoor dining requires, if it was all maybe going to get taken away again.”
While she has tried her best to pivot directions and make due, revenue has continued to decline. Amidst the drop, however, her overhead has remained the same.
“The business model I am operating right now, I could do out of 250 square feet, and I have 2250 square feet I have to pay for,” she said.
Back in April, after the first California stay-at-home orders were enacted, she attempted to negotiate with her landlord to find a mutually beneficial agreement. Negotiations, however, were unsuccessful, and Borgen Abdallah was forced to make a decision to ensure her restaurant's survival: She couldn't and wouldn't be paying rent at all.
“We basically at this point owe eight to nine months of back-rent without any clear guidance on how that can get repaid," she said. "We’re staying afloat, but only because we’re not paying our rent at this point.”
It was the idea that there were other independent restaurants dealing with the same challenges that pushed her to begin a campaign called No Relief, No Rent. The goal was to mobilize the industry and push local government to enact rent relief.
While so much of the conversation surrounding restaurants has been about reopening, Borgen Abdallah explained that they won’t be able to be open longterm without aid that is not just in the form of loans.
“There isn’t a single operator who isn’t saddled by debt at this point," she said. "We’re just kind of continuing to defer this inability to pay.”
Instead of focusing only on when restaurants can reopen for service, her hope is that rent relief and bailouts will now be a focus.