Esau’s Cafe committed to reopening
On a normal Saturday morning, Esau’s Cafe in Carpinteria would be bustling with activity. Waitresses would whisk plates of pancakes, eggs and bacon around the dining room with not an empty coffee cup in sight.
Despite being located on Linden Avenue just steps from Carpinteria State Beach, the kitchen is closed and the doors are locked.
“CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE…SORRY, WE TRIED,” a note on the door reads in bright red letters.
The cafe has been closed since Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandatory stay-at-home order on March 19 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Since then Esau’s Cafe owners Scott and Arti Stanley have been trying to access government resources such as Paycheck Protection Program funding to keep their business afloat.
The PPP allowed $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses who pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. It was part of the $2 trillion CARES Act stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump on March 27. The Small Business Administration manages the program.
In late April, the program received a $310 billion cash infusion from the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. More than half of the second round of funding was distributed in the first week of May, and most of it went to California businesses.
However, SBA awarded the loans on a first-come, first-serve basis, which led to inconsistent results. At least 30 publicly traded companies who received loans say they plan to keep them according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Nortech Systems Inc generated $116 million in revenue last year. The company received a $6.1 million loan through the program.
The Stanleys hope the program will come through for them. They have been waiting since March 19.
Mr. Stanley said that in late April he would spend hours on the phone waiting to speak to an SBA representative. After the second phase of PPP funding, he was able to get through to SBA staff more consistently.
“They (the SBA) were so overwhelmed at first that, you know, websites were shutting down, misinformation was being thrown around. Over 2,300 people on a call ahead of you, so I’d put it on speaker and sit there. The longer that we’re in this situation, the better that they are to handle the problems, the bottlenecks. They’re really stepping up,” Mr. Stanley said.
He explained that you “gotta know what to say,” to talk to a live SBA representative, but if you do, you can get through in five to 10 minutes.
“You have to be patient; you have to know how to work within their system. It’s not like you’re calling any kind of agency getting straight through, but if you’re a little bit patient, it’s nothing like it was before, nothing,” Mr. Stanley said.
He added that his employees received their unemployment electronic debit cards after weeks of waiting.
“It’s awful having to tell your workers, ‘We don’t have work for you.’ It’s kind of a strange thing to see people just kind of looking at you like, ‘What am I going to do?’ Your employees look to you for an answer. They look to you for, you know, how are they supposed to continue with their life, you know?,” Mrs. Stanley said.
Other businesses on Linden Avenue have stayed open to serve takeout. Mrs. Stanley said the takeout model doesn’t suit their business and the financial commitment to staff and vendors is too risky.
“Breakfast is a different deal. The amount of volume we would have to do for to-go orders wasn’t feasible. It’s not something people generally do as takeout. So, for us ethically to employ somebody not knowing that we could pay them for their work was something that we just couldn’t accept doing,” Mrs. Stanley said.
“We tried for a couple of days and everyone’s health mattered more — I couldn’t ask my employees to come in and be around each other. I couldn’t ask them to, I didn’t feel right asking them to deal with people in the public, like who am I to ask,” Mrs. Stanley said.
Carpinteria restaurants make most of their profit during the summer tourist season. Mrs. Stanley said she is concerned about what will happen if the economy doesn’t open until the fall or later.
“Carpinteria does all the business you’re going to do with those three months of summer to get you going throughout the year,” Mrs. Stanley said. “If businesses can’t get up and running by summer and then you’re going back into the downtime of winter, that doesn’t look like a very bright future to me, for anybody — not just for us. Carpinteria is just so sensitive to the seasons,”
She continued that Santa Barbara County Public Health Department officials told her that when the restaurant opens, they will likely have to remove half their dining room and counter seating to maintain social distancing requirements between guests.
“What they’re trying to say is, maybe you can reopen and if you do, you’re only going to be able to serve a fraction of people that you served before if indeed people are even going to go out,” Mrs. Stanley said.
She said the city of Carpinteria officials have been “phenomenal” and have offered to allow more outdoor seating to compensate for the lost dining room seats.
“They’re coming up with suggestions and encouragement that I don’t think other cities are doing, Carpinteria is really unique in that situation,” Mrs. Stanley said.
The Stanleys launched a GoFundMe campaign, at the insistence of their children, to keep their business going until government support arrives. The family has owned Esau’s Cafe for 40 years. They moved the restaurant from Santa Barbara to Linden Avenue in Carpinteria 17 years ago. Mrs. Stanley said they want the restaurant doors to open when state officials re-open restaurant dining rooms so they can continue to employ locals and serve up breakfast and lunch for the community.
“It certainly didn’t come lightly for us. In 40 years, we never asked for help, we have never had to ask for help, this is a huge deal for us,” Mrs. Stanly said. “But what it’s going to do is help me pay Edison, the gas, the trash bill, the insurance; these are things that are due. Everyone is waiting — they’re due. So at least I could get caught up with those whenever we get here — this kind of thing would make it so that we were starting out closer to zero,” Mr. Stanley said. Rent bills are also continuing to pile up.
To donate to the Esau’s Cafe fundraiser, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/1xv52t8740. So far, the Stanleys have raised $5,720 towards their $40,000 goal. Mrs. Stanley said the donations helped offset their steadily accruing bills.
“The support from the fundraiser and the phone calls that we get and the letters that we get, my gosh. We get notes from people, it is just shocking. The support has been shocking, really,” Mrs. Stanley said.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 25 years old. Scott was 29 years old. You do something 7 days a week for 40 years it’s bizarre. It’s not even a job anymore, it’s a way of life. It’s what we like to do. So, it’s like someone took away not only your job, but your hobby, your sport, your entertainment, your social life, your everything,” Mrs. Stanley said.
“One hundred percent, our goal is to open up, that’s something that we’re not veering from it all.”