“Hardly even break-even” until finally closed: pandemic hits minority companies


After 29 years in the business, Mobeen Ahmad decided to close his family-run restaurant during the pandemic.

A local newspaper described Shalimar Fine Indian Cuisine as the longest-running Indian restaurant in Nashville before it closed in May. Customers donated $ 6,500 to a GoFundMe campaign to save the business and keep texting and emailing it kind words, Ahmad says.

“To be completely honest, I miss my routine,” he says. “That was a full time job. I have a lot of memories and stories with my clients. They loved me very much and I miss them very much. “

Ahmad is not alone in his struggle: A. report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 41% of black-owned companies saw their business decline during the pandemic. Latinos’ business activity declined 32% and Asian business owners saw business activity declined 26%.

Mobeen Ahmad decided to permanently close his restaurant after 29 years in business. (Courtesy)

Ahmad and his wife moved from Pakistan to Nashville with no restaurant experience and three children to support. Before that, he worked for an airline for several years, but wanted to settle in the city.

When COVID-19 hit, the restaurant’s cash flow turned negative and high credit card interest rates began to affect its finances, he says. He applied for a paycheck protection program loan in the first week of April, but did not receive the money until the last week of May.

When the relief hit it was “too little, too late” and he decided to close for good, he says.

Ahmad enjoyed his job and is confident that the restaurant would be open without the pandemic. Although he is financially unable to reopen, his belief makes him optimistic.

“I’m hopeful, God willing, if I get help, I’ll open up again,” he says.

Some business owners like JP Lopez are finding ways to survive during the pandemic. He is co-owner of an artisanal ice cream parlor inspired by travel Wanderlust Creamerythat he and his wife opened five years ago. Starting out in Tarzana, a small suburb of Los Angeles, Wanderlust Creamery now has five locations and an online store selling unique flavors like Sticky Rice + Mango and Ube Malted Crunch.

From mid-March to mid-May, the company switched to selling ice cream to take away to limit employee interaction with customers. The success in selling pints gave the business the impetus to run an online store, Lopez says.

The Asian Jet Set Pint Pack from Wanderlust Creamery.  (Courtesy)
The Asian Jet Set Pint Pack from Wanderlust Creamery. (Courtesy)

Sales are down 75% compared to previous years, Lopez says.

“The first round of PPP loans gave us a huge boost in bringing all of our kitchen staff back,” he says. “I do not think so [the government has] done enough to either warn everyone or just generally to help the situation. It is almost as if they have let the catering industry down. “

Lopez says he’s trying to secure more PPP funding in the second round to help plan for the uncertain future, even if vaccines are rolled out.

In 2021, Lopez plans to focus on selling pints online – the only part of his business that is growing. The shop’s events team switched to working on the online business during the shutdown and started shipping pints nationwide in mid-December, he says.

During the first month and a half of the lockdown, when the store “barely broke even”, Lopez said he and his wife were considering closing permanently. But the couple set and stuck with a break-even goal for each day.

“As long as we can pay the bills and leave the lights on, we’ll just try to keep things going,” he says.

Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for the broadcast Todd Mundt. Allison Hagan adapted for the web.

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