Today, I met with Jacques Gautier, the chef & owner of Palo Santo, a pan-latin seasonal restaurant in Park Slope that opened in 2006. The two of us met, masked up and 6+ feet away in this quaint space on Union Street between 4th and 5th avenues. The beautiful wood tables have been reshuffled against the rich red brick walls to create a makeshift take out restaurant where an intimate 3 course dining experience used to be.
Jacques has spent the last two months adjusting, adapting & innovating to find ways to keep his staff employed and to continue pursuing his passion, cooking for people and running his restaurant. He walked me through the journey from the beginning.
“We closed for 4 days on March 16th and reopened on March 20th after it became very obvious to me that we weren’t going to reopen (like before) in 2 weeks or even a month. I couldn’t afford to be closed for that long.”
Jacques has been one of the luckier restaurants, they’re still open and he is still employing most of his staff. “The people that depend on me are my staff. For the most part, most of my staff is here.” Two employees left to go live with their families but otherwise Jacques has kept the rest of the staff on.
But business has been cut in half. “We have been doing less than half of what we would normally be doing” They have survived with the help of local initiatives and fundraisers. “We have been doing a lot of deliveries to hospitals through Meals for Methodist & Operation Feed Brooklyn. We have been doing about 2 a week. About 25-100 and one time 200 meals. That helps us out but the price point is much lower. We are getting $10-$15 per meal when we usually get $45 per meal. I’m not making a profit but it keeps my staff employed. It is a few extra shifts I can spread out among my staff.”
Like many other restaurants and small businesses, Jacques did not apply for PPP or any other loans or grants offered through the CARES Act. “ I never applied for PPP. I have been focusing my energy on running my business and adapting. I didn’t like the way PPP was structured as a loan and I didn’t have the time to do a mountain of paperwork I was going to get lost in. It seems risky to me to take out a loan and then later on prove I used it correctly to have it forgiven... I don’t want to come out of this in debt, that could be horrible.”
So who is PPP for exactly? Jacques is not unlike many others that don’t think the government had small businesses like his in mind when they created PPP. “(It's for) businesses that have lawyers & accountants on staff. If you’re Danny Meyers, you’ve got accountants and lawyers on your staff and you can apply for your loan even though every time I walk by there (Shake Shack) there is a line around the corner.”
So what next?
Delivering meals to hospitals has been incredibly helpful, but that’s also changing. Fortunately hospitals are not as burdened as there were the past few weeks but that also means there are less meal initiatives for local restaurants to participate in to help keep them afloat & their employees paid.
So now Jacques will have to re-navigate. “Every week I’m thinking what can I do this week to keep my restaurant afloat” One things they’ve done is online cook-alongs. They did one last night with Gastronauts NYC, a club for adventurous eaters. Palo Santo put together a 3 course meal kit and delivered them all over the city. On the menu: A three- course meal of Pig Head Tacos Frog Leg Soup and Guacamole topped with Crickets.
Look out for more meal cook-alongs. In two weeks they’ll be doing one with Wild East Brewing Co in Gowanus, it will be a cook-along & beer pairing meal. You can also purchase to-go meals for pickup & delivery 7 days a week.
So how does Jacques think we in the community can help?
“When we are able to reopen, one that could help would be to loosen up the sidewalk cafe regulations. If we can put a few extra tables on the sidewalk that would be super helpful.” It would also be helpful if the health department could be more involved & helpful. “If the health department could change their approach and have more of a protagonist role in this they could help restaurants in the form of guidance and suggestions for best practices...that would be great.”
(Looking to ask for sidewalk cafe allowances, You can submit an email to the mayor’s office HERE. )
Jacques also believes that universal health care is imperative now more than ever. Not just for the over 36 million Americans that have lost their jobs the last 8 weeks but it would help small businesses as well. We here at Save Brooklyn could not agree more!
Looking to order something absolutely delicious from Palo Santo? You can easily order dinner directly on their website everyday before 4pm for pickup or delivery. They sell gift certificates online as well.
As always, thanks for your time. Please share this post & please help #SaveBrooklyn