Being in business in Santa Barbara for more than 21 years, the staff at Los Arroyos has truly become a family.
More than 70 of Tony Arroyo’s employees have been with him for more than 10 years, and many have been there since the beginning.
“I know their kids; I know their wives; I know pretty much everybody since they started working for me. Most of them, I’m the godfather for their kids,” said Mr. Arroyo.
“We’re family. A lot of employees don’t see me as their boss, they see me as Tony: the godfather of my son.”
Los Arroyos has become a generational business, with sons and daughters of employees now working alongside their parents, so when the coronavirus pandemic hit and Mr. Arroyo was forced to drastically reduce his staff’s hours, he knew his first priority was to take care of his family.
“I don’t care if I don’t make money. I don’t need it right now. I need to make sure that I keep everybody alive,” said Mr. Arroyo.
To that effect, Mr. Arroyo has created the Los Arroyos Employee Relief Fund, a GoFundMe fundraiser to support the many employees and their families who rely on Los Arroyos as their sole income and live paycheck to paycheck.
“We have launched this GoFundMe campaign as a response to our friends, family and community who have asked, ‘How can we help?’ ” wrote Mr. Arroyo.
While some of Mr. Arroyo’s 175 employees have filed for unemployment, he’s been able to keep about 100 of them working at his locations in Downtown Santa Barbara, Montecito and Goleta. Nevertheless, the drastic drop in business has forced Los Arroyos to significantly cut hours.
“They pleaded with me to make sure I can give them more hours, but it’s hard. It’s really hard. I try to keep four people per shift each day. You know, having two to three people in the kitchen, having two to three people in the front with four or six hours each to make sure they have some money,” said Mr. Arroyo.
At the Goleta location, which Mr. Arroyo had to close for a week and a half before business returned, they were only making $500 a day in sales.
“That’s not enough to survive,” said Mr. Arroyo.
“I usually use a lot of my personal money to make sure that (employees) have money in their pockets by paying payroll out of my pockets. I thought I could support them a little, but I couldn’t.”
Los Arroyos is the lifeline for many of Mr. Arroyo’s employees who have been with him for decades, and the business could not function without them.
“When I have employees working for me for 21 years, they’re 40 already and they’re not going to go find another job,” said Mr. Arroyo.
“The heads of my kitchen, the heads of my restaurants, they are the eyes for Tony. Basically they know how I like my restaurants, and those are the people that are always backing me up.”
While Mr. Arroyo has heard that landlords have been flexible with rents, childcare and food have become a major financial strain for his staff.
“A lot of our community, the Hispanic community — a lot of our employees are Hispanic — they have minimal childcare. If they don’t go to school, they have to stay home, they have to eat every single day, so there’s more expense for them. This GoFundMe is going to help them I know. A lot of them tell me, ‘At least we can get money for food,’ and that’s the most important (thing) for them,” said Mr. Arroyo
Mr. Arroyo hopes that the community, many of whom have been loyal customers for the 21 years he’s been in business, will continue to show their support during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Now we need your help. We need the customers’ help for the employees because they’re always there for us, in bad or good. We’ll always support the community here,” said Mr. Arroyo.
Although times are tough for the Los Arroyos family, Mr. Arroyo said he’s been amazed at the generosity and support he’s seen so far, especially from those who have come to the restaurants for take-out orders.
“Most of them, they come and even if their bill is only $15 dollars they give you a $20 dollar tip,” said Mr. Arroyo.
“I’m surprised at how many customers come a day. I have a customer who’d come three times a week. My Montecito location has been amazing. The downtown location has been great. In Goleta we closed for a week and a half, but then we reopened and now all the families in the community of Goleta are supporting us.”
Mr. Arroyo knows many of the restaurant owners in town, especially those who have been in business for a long time, and said the best way to support them is to come in and order, not only for the business, but for the emotional support.
“We support the community in that way, not just from purchasing food, but coming in and seeing regulars and to see your people. I think it’s great when you go out and pick up your to-go order and you see your favorite waiter and your favorite cashier or manager. It always gives you a nice cheer up and it says, ‘We’re going to get out of this one,’” said Mr. Arroyo.
“To see that people are still supporting them, I think that is most important to them because they feel emotional, and they feel motivated for the next step.”
You can donate to the Los Arroyos Employee Relief Fund at https://www.gofundme.com/f/los-arroyos-employee-relief-fund, which is at $788 out of its $100,000 goal as of Wednesday evening.
The three locations are open every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and you can order take-out or delivery at https://www.losarroyos.net.
“I’ve been in Santa Barbara for 35 years and I have no doubt that the community will always support us and we’ll support the community in every way we can,” said Mr. Arroyo. “We’re always going to be there for them.”