Wednesday, September 28

The country of pandemic bars: chronicle of 22 months at half gas

1. “People still have respect for sitting at the bar, but we survive because of it”

Erika Chiriboga, at the Saemi cafeteria in Madrid – JOSÉ RAMÓN LADRA

The one with the family Chiriboga It is a neighborhood bar. In the middle of the Marqués de Vadillo, in Madrid, they have been behind the bar of the Saemi cafeteria for more than seven years, and whoever enters its doors knows the name of those who are inside. Maybe that’s why, account Erika, The eldest daughter of the owner of the business, when the state of alarm was decreed 21 and a half months ago, who they first thought of was the neighbors and relatives, to distribute the gender of their pantry and also the drinks that had an upcoming expiration date .

Now, the owners of this business are looking back and corroborating that they have not yet been able to regain normalcy, or at least something similar to what they had at the beginning of 2020. The closing months “were very, very hard,” he recalls Erika, who until the end of April did not receive the ERTE entry or temporary employment regulation file. Less fortunate was the employee they had then, who did not receive it until the middle of the year. Her mother, she now recalls, lived through weeks of sheer anguish wondering how to pay her bills, which kept increasing, when everything was standing outside. “The owner of the premises mediated to facilitate the payment of the rent, but the rest had to be dealt with the same way,” adds the young daughter of the Chiriboga.

In the summer of 2020 and with the famous de-escalation towards the ‘new normal’, the capacity was recovering and, little by little, the end of the prohibition that affected them the most, that of consuming in bars, came to an end. “People still have respect to sit at the bar. But we are a bar that lives on it almost 100%, and although we set high tables, the place was full with four, despite being far from the allowed capacity “at that time, he explains.

At the moment, the Community of Madrid is one of the ones that has taken the least measures in relation to the hospitality industry, although when Erika looks at what other autonomies are doing, she cannot stop thinking about how going through the same thing again would affect them. . “After the discotheques, the bars are the ones who are in the spotlight,” he acknowledges. In Madrid, many bars have survived thanks to the terraces, although in their case the extraordinary license granted by the city did not arrive in time, and their two high tables at the entrance have become resistance, the virus and also the cold.

2. “This year has been a horror when compared to other autonomous communities”

Enric Suárez, in charge of the Can Majó restaurant in Barceloneta
Enric Suárez, in charge of the Can Majó restaurant in Barceloneta – PEP DALMAU

Enric Suarez has been in charge of the Can Majó restaurant from the Barceloneta beach that his parents Enrique and María opened more than fifty years ago. In his case, he closed the year with a fortnight of employees, less than half of those who were in charge in the most splendid moments of this place specializing in rice, seafood and fish. “This year 2021 has been much better than last, although it has been a tough and complicated year”, highlights the hotelier. “What scared us the most were the closures, which made it unfeasible and unsustainable to keep the restaurant afloat,” he acknowledges.

The year just said goodbye has been a harrowing ordeal for ERTE, closings and openings, reduced hours, limited capacity (which have returned to Barcelona this Christmas) and aid that was slow to arrive. «In Catalonia the truth is that it has been a horror when compared with the other communities. You can be wrong the first time, but the second time is already on duty, ”says this businessman before recalling that bars and restaurants have suffered some of the harshest measures throughout the pandemic. “They have not always been well thought out,” he adds.

Between last minute reservations and calls canceling tables due to outbreaks and fear caused by the emergence of the Ómicron variant, Suárez bitterly criticizes the management made by the Generalitat during the health crisis. “Here we have long been the worst managed, we have tried to be very restrained, but the (epidemiological) results have been the same here as outside,” he adds. Despite everything, the restaurateur acknowledges that most clients have been “empathetic” and understanding with setbacks and have helped to move forward with their reservations and desire to leave home as soon as possible.

The local Suárez, which he runs with his family, is located in a strategic location, in front of the beach, which makes it easy to have a high season that lasts practically all year round. Future plans? «For 2022 I am optimistic. Expectations must be positive, there is no other way. With how bad 2020 was, it can’t be worse. 2021 has been better thanks to the vaccines, the lack of refinement and the desire to go out and enjoy after the confinement. And 2022 is going to be better … yes or yes ».

3. «With this uncertainty, the hospitality industry now consists of ‘saving’ limitations»

José Manuel and Eli pose at the GastroLava (Valladolid)
José Manuel and Eli pose at the GastroLava (Valladolid) – FRANCISCO DE LAS HERAS

Eli Pérez and José Manuel Manzano They decided six years ago to embark on a “very fashionable” project together with the Valladolid Arts Laboratory, a perfect location for an offer that mixes gastronomy and culture. This is how GastroLava was born and what began with very good omens, “for the novelty”, ended up becoming a constant fight of almost 22 months against the “uncertainty” that has caused the hotel industry to consist of “saving” obstacles. Despite the serenity with which Eli recounts the almost two years, it is difficult not to imagine the chaos that is being open each day.

This couple from Valladolid opted to close the business for two long periods, the ones with the greatest uncertainty, between March and June 2020 and from October to June 2021. «Because of the seven workers, we couldn’t be putting them in and out of ERTE, that’s why It seemed tremendous for them, so we decided that, until it was clear, we would not open, “they explain. And they did so, although with many difficulties, especially during the time that the curfew lasted at 10 p.m. and, worse still, the one that was in force in Castilla y León until eight in the afternoon. Then the summer “was correct, although not crazy because people were afraid, but the terrace saved us a lot.”

Now, when they were confident of a more or less normal Christmas, “total uncertainty” has arrived again, Eli says and explains how in two of the events they had scheduled these days, reservations have been canceled by more than 60%.

In GastroLava they have not stopped making reforms since the pandemic began and, the first thing was to cancel the bar and expand spaces between the tables. José Manuel says that being able to take advantage of the ERTE has been fundamental, as well as receiving aid from the Board and the City Council, which has not prevented them from losing money with so many months without activity. They admit to being tired of “being like this again and not being able to plan anything”, especially because in summer “you saw the light” and, again, now Ómicron plays. So there is only hope that the situation will change next spring and, little by little, a normalcy that almost no one remembers can be restored.

4. «The previous Christmases were worse. In 2020 the losses were horrendous »

Félix Parte, at the Amaren grill, in the heart of Bilbao
Félix Parte, at the Amaren grill, in the heart of Bilbao – PANKRA NIETO

Felix Part Fidalgo is the manager of the group La Olla restoration, that brings together nine hoteliers in Bilbao. Receive to
in the Amaren, a steakhouse in the heart of the city. And from here remember that a year ago, the situation was even more complicated than the one faced by the sector at the premiere of 2022.

“Christmas last year was worse than this,” he reflects. There were many days when bars had to close at 8pm and approaching customers “were more scared than they are now.” “We came from a complicated 2020 with horrendous losses,” he recalls, which in his case amounted to 1.2 million euros between the nine locations, and it took months to cushion the blow. “We began to lift our heads in June.”

“It is something very hard on an emotional level,” he regrets, because there have been months in which they have had to ‘play’ with putting their workers in and out of ERTE, “a human capital” that for their businesses “is essential.” For Félix, as for most of the Basque hospitality sector, the judicial decision that in February overturned the closure of bars decreed by the Basque Government “was essential” for many locals to survive. This businessman considers that maintaining the generalized closures were “illogical measures” in a context in which the contagion figures “were extremely low” and while the rest of the sectors did not suffer any type of restriction. “We could not have survived because we came from a 2020 with many losses.” In fact, after the reopening, and especially from the summer to November, the hoteliers have managed to stop the economic hole “despite not having any big Bilbao parties, or events.”

In 2021 they had to deal with the fear of citizenship. Félix Parte explains how after an increase in infections, the influx dropped and the cancellation of reservations automatically arrived, although there were no restrictions in force. That is why he sees the population “more mature than politicians” and knows what he has to do at all times. Basque hoteliers enter 2022 surrounded by uncertainty because it will be time to return ICO credits. “There are going to be bars that are going to have it fatal and they will not be able to pay their bills,” he predicts.

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