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Q&A Business

Some small businesses are thriving amidst Covid-19. Others suffered a loss.



The restaurant is still empty, one hour before it opens. One waitress is cleaning the floors, the hostess is taking reservations on the phone. In the kitchen, a surprise inspection by the county for food safety practices is going on and the cook is showing the appliances to the inspector. The inside restaurant looks sparse, with few tables, spaced six feet apart. A white tent is set up outdoors with more tables and lights.


Owner, Paulo Almeida, an immigrant from Brazil, opened Fogo de Minas, a

Brazilian steakhouse in the Natomas area of Sacramento in 2018. He’s also a partner on a construction business, Cutting Edge Pavers, which specializes in landscaping projects. He talked about the Covid-19 economic effects on both businesses and how different they were for each of them.


You had a previous restaurant, Taste of Brazil, that you closed. And now you opened another, but still with the same concept. Why a steakhouse?

Well, when people think of a Brazilian restaurant, all they think about is the meat, “I can eat

a lot!” That's the first thing they have in mind. You know, steak houses are traditional in Brazil, and I think, if we're going to do something from Brazil, I think it should be something traditional in Brazil, the “churrascaria”.

 

How long have you been here?

29 years.


That's a long time!

A long time. I was only 21 years old when I arrived in America.


And did you start with…

Construction. My first business was with Pavers. And I still do it now.

 

So what are you say is your main business, construction or restaurant?

Construction. The restaurant is part-time.


How many employees you have here, at the restaurant?

Uh, we have 18 people.


When COVID happened last year, what happened to the restaurant?

We closed down for almost 11 months. We completely closed down and we just reopened a

month and a half ago.


What steps are you taking for this reopening?

There’re a lot of adaptations. We needed to update, like this outside tent here. We didn't have a budget to put one in, but we had to do it. We can’t have enough people to keep going because it’s only 25% of the capacity inside. I used to sit 98 people inside and now it's going to be only 34 both inside and outside. That's a real drop.


How was the financial impact the COVID had on the restaurant?

A lot. With the restaurant, we had to start from zero, again. Start everything from zero.


So when you closed, you didn't do anything, no take-outs?

Nothing. Because you can't do take-out in a Brazilian steakhouse. We have a different system than other restaurants.


What system?

We do the rotation. We can’t keep 12 types of meat waiting for the customer to call, that doesn't work. That's why it was better for me to keep the restaurant closed during that time than to be open and try to survive. It cost me less money closing down the way I did for 11 months.


But you still had to keep paying rent…

Yeah! The rent comes in every month.


How about the employees?

Everybody went to find new work and now they started getting back in again.


The government is giving these incentives and, loans for small businesses. Are you going to

take advantage of it?

They say it’s for small businesses but I don't think that it’s. Usually only the big business, the big guys have an advantage in it, the small ones don’t. A small business like us can take advantage, but I see many big businesses getting a lot of money. I know a lot of guys who received incentives from the government, but compared to us that's nothing, you know, we don’t get anything, we get minor stuff.


But did you apply for something?

Yeah. We applied.


How about the tax exemption?

The taxes exemption, you know, we do get. I don't have to pay taxes here, but that's because I made no money. There was a loss, you know, a complete loss, because we completely closed. We had no income.


How about the customers? Are they coming back?

We have a lot of customers who are coming back. That's exciting. It’s a lot of people, like

tonight, we have almost 90 reservations ready for tonight.


I was listening to the phone ringing all the time!

People want to make reservations, but we limitate. I cannot fill the restaurant yet, we have

limited space. We need to coordinate with the people. We say, “if you want a reservation, you have an hour and a half to sit and enjoy your dinner because I have other people coming after you.”


What concerns you have for your business, with the reopening?

My concern is with some kind of humans, the way they think and act. We have some people

come in here who think they’re different, they don’t want to wear a mask. If you ask them to put a mask, they get upset. That's my only concern, with the people. This happens a lot. I asked three people to leave my place. They were not happy and put a bad review. I get upset. That's not my rules, it’s the government rules we need to follow [in order] to be open!

 

Really? Does this happens here?

All the time! I asked a lady to put a mask to walk inside my place. If you're on a table, that's fine, but if you walk in and go get food or walk to go to the bathroom, you need to wear a mask. She got upset. I said, “I'm sorry. I need to ask you to leave.” And the next day I saw the review she put in saying we are racists because she's black and we asked her to leave. Why would she say that? I’m from Brazil! In Brazil we’re all family and friends, that's how we treat people in Brazil, it doesn't matter color to us. We’re not racists! We’re all human beings.


This is a serious accusation.

Yeah. And makes me so mad. I mean, one of the guys we asked him to leave, he put a review

like, “this place is disgusting. I don't like the food. I don't like this and that.” Those are the ones who make me mad.


How about your employees? What concerns they have?

No, no concerns. They got their jobs back, they are working and making money. The only thing they need to do is readapt, that's it. Like wear a mask all the time inside the place, wear gloves.


Do you worry that maybe the customer’s habits will change, like eating out?

I don’t know. A lot of customers don’t want to go out yet. But a lot of people want to get out of the house. A lot of our customers can’t stay home anymore.


Besides all the adaptations, did anything else changed?

Everything changed, how we need to set up everything inside. Like the salad bar - the customers cannot serve themselves. We need to serve them. That's a big change.

So tell me now about your main business, Cutting Edge Pavers.

The construction never stopped. It’s busy, busy, busy, growing every day. That’s why I still have this place, because I have the construction.

 

So the construction kind of…

Supported this for the time we were closed.

 

I know, especially with renovations, construction has been growing.

Yes. We do a lot of backyard, driveway, patios, pool decks. A lot of people now have more time at home. They want to get the backyard done because some people never had a chance to use the backyard. And now they have and want to use it. A lot of people call, “can you do a patio? Can you do an outside kitchen, a fire pit? Can you do walls?” So it's booming. It’s busy like never.

 

Where do you work? You just came from Woodland…

We work all over. From Modesto to Woodland, Auburn, Reno… everywhere. This business I

have with my brother and another party. We are three.


Do you have any employees?

60 people working with us.

 

How about this business, did you apply for any loans?

Not for this one, because some of the loans you need to pay back with interest, sooner or later. We don't need it, the company is doing pretty good. There's a lot of work. Sometimes I leave at six o'clock in the morning, get home like ten at night.


Would you say that COVID helped in this case?

You know, helped at one point, but affected the other one. Helped because a lot of people now wants to get stuff done in the house, but on the other hand it's hard to find workers for the construction. If you need a worker, it’s hard to find one. Nobody wants to work. You get free money from the government, why do you want to work?


Oh, really? This is the first I heard!

Yeah! Nobody wants to work hard anymore. And most people do food delivery, Uber, this kind of stuff. A lot of people work with this now. It’s good money, I don't blame them, you know.


It makes sense, to not be dependent on a job they can lose.

It's so hard to get workers even at the restaurant, or to do construction. Some people come in and work a day or two, and say “no, that's too heavy.” Even Brazilians!

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