Redmond businesses trying to navigate pandemic pressures

Coffee shops, catering businesses and restaurants explain how they are helping and being helped.

Amid the spread of a global pandemic, local restrictions on meetings and the cusp of what many fear will be an economic downturn, Redmond residents and businesses are still finding ways to support one another.

Julian Ramos, owner and manager of Agave Cocina & Cantina in Redmond, acknowledged the uncertainty of running a business at this time. He’s had to cut down to what he called a “skeleton crew” as businesses in the state are prohibited from anything besides delivery and takeout, per Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders.

“We’re struggling — we’re trying to make the best of what we have, offering take-out and delivery,” Ramos said. “None of us are really sure how this is going to work.”

Ramos, originally from Jalisco, Mexico, opened Agave in 2009. The restaurant normally has capacity for more than 150 seats, but is now down to a staff of less than 10.

“We have a couple (employees) for delivery, one or two on-site taking orders as well as one or two cooks in the back,” Ramos said. “Seventy-five (75)% of the staff, I told them not to come in … We went from 28 employees in Redmond, part-time and full-time, to about five employees.”

Ramos said he was saddened to be in the situation he is and was trying to provide as much work as he could. He’s also started selling gift cards on a sale price – buy a $50 gift card and receive $10 extra on the card – an attempt to buoy operations that has been met with support from the community.

“I’m trying my best here, even though I’m not making any money – actually I’m losing money. I hope this is going to be just for the next few weeks and then get back to normal,” Ramos said. “The residents of Redmond have been supportive with comments on social media as well as ordering take-out. We had a couple of people buying gift cards.”

Other businesses, like Green Apple Events and Catering, rely on events that are now prohibited to operate. In the month of March, they’ve lost about $100,000 in revenue due to postponed events according to Cheryl Seaton who co-owns the company with her sister. She said they are transferring the retainers of clients as most have said they’d like to support her business.

Green Apple just started to offer drive-thru services as well, to try and cut down on the social interaction necessary for those picking up meals, and they are in the process of launching their DoorDash account. Seaton said several customers have expressed how they are using the services to try and help the local business.

Laura Shelby owns Sammamish Point Espresso, a walk-up shop on the site of a Shell Gas Station, which has been in operation for nearly 30 years. She said that while her operations haven’t been severely impacted by the new restrictions, her customer landscape has changed as a temporary normal sets in.

“We only have one employee working at any given time, so we just restricted it to only one person in the shop at a time. You walk in, you order your coffee, we make your coffee, off you go, so it’s very straightforward,” Shelby said. “I’d say we’re probably down about 25% (sales) right now. The patterns have definitely changed. All of my normal customers, commuters going into Microsoft and Amazon that are (now) working from home, I don’t see.”

She said she’s seen new customers – perhaps those needing fresh air while working from home – and that her employees have been attentively cleaning and disinfecting their work space. She’s also given each of them the option to stay home if they don’t feel safe working. She said economics were a secondary concern to safety, but they were a concern.

“At this point, we’re still breaking even but you do worry about reaching the point where you’re losing money every day,” Shelby said. “You read about all of the restaurants that are down 75 (to) 90% … my heart just goes out to them because I know how, personally, you put so much of yourself into your business, and I know how hard that is emotionally to make these changes and to potentially close up shop.”