In the food industry, being a small business owner can be tough. Especially now with COVID-19, many restaurant owners don’t know what will become of their business. Stephane Cohen Aloro and his wife Valerie are an older couple facing just that difficulty.
Having come to Israel 23 years ago from France, they’ve been working non-stop to make their culinary dreams a reality in the form of a small bistro named “Carrousel”.
Stephane has trained as a chef in France, and came to Israel in hopes of creating a Kosher delicacy in the heart of the city.
“Business was booming. Over time the restaurant grew,” Valerie told us with her charming French accent, her kind eyes looking out at the distance. “Stephane brought in another chef to help him, we hired more waiters, and things were going great. Five years ago we even moved the restaurant to a better location. In the afternoons the workers in the nearby offices would overflow the restaurant, and in the evenings it was filled with street goers. It was always a merry place to be at. It’s not like we had the success of a commercial chain,” Valerie laughs, a throaty sound, “But it was a steady livelihood for us and our four children. The restaurant has great staff –” Valerie’s sentence cuts short and her voice dies. Quietly, she adds, “had great staff. We had to let most of them go because of the coronavirus crisis.”
Dealing with COVID-19
“Before the coronavirus outbreak, the restaurant was always full of people, especially during lunchtime. You couldn’t fit another person if you’d tried during 12:00-14:00, and evenings were a calm but merry time too.” Valerie’s face clouds over. “But then COVID-19 came along, and it’s been a catastrophe ever since. When the whole thing just started, Stephane had to go into quarantine for two weeks after meeting with a carrier – and in those two weeks everything around us changed.”
“People started working from home, so we didn’t have the offices around us to cater to during lunchtime. People stopped going out to eat during the evenings, and those who ventured out are pressed for money and tend to share a dish rather than order one for each. We found ourselves without any way to make money, and we still had to pay the employees, and get fresh produce, pay our rent, taxes, electricity, etc… The bills kept piling up. That’s when we let most of our employees go. We even had to let the young man who washed our dishes go, and it was heartbreaking to do so. With so few people dining at the restaurant it just didn’t make financial sense to keep him on – he hardly had any dishes to wash.” Valerie sighs deeply. “There is no reason to have two chefs too, so the other chef was let go of as well. And we still have to pay more and more, and we don’t know what to do. After that, the country went into quarantine, and we had to close the restaurant from the end of May – that’s 2 and a half months!”
“Last Thursday evening, we had absolutely zero people come in. That’s never happened to us, ever, not since the day we opened the restaurant. We had to throw away all of the produce we bought, we were prepared for a much larger number of customers. We never compromise our ingredients, and it just hurts the heart to toss away all of that food and hard work. We just don’t know what to prepare for anymore. It’s really affecting our moods too.” Valerie’s eyes glint with sadness. “Money’s short, and our savings can only hold us afloat for so long.”
“People told us to advertise online, and to start serving take-aways and hire a delivery service, but we don’t have the kind of money needed to put into advertisements right now. Delivery companies make a nice profit off our backs as well, up to 20%, and we simply don’t make enough over every meal to sustain that. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re trying to adjust, though – we’ve adjusted our menu, the prices, and I’m doing my best filling in for the waiters, though it is hard at my age to run around the restaurant like that.”
“A few weeks ago we had a customer come in, and my husband took her temperature just like he should – and she had a high fever. He asked her kindly to leave, and she kicked up a fuss like you wouldn’t believe. She screamed and yelled, and was deeply offended that my husband didn’t want to serve her.” Valerie fiddles with her hands nervously, seeming lost in thought. “We never wanted to make our customer feel bad – but what were we to do? We’re in a tough place, all around. We don’t want to disappoint anyone, but we want to keep ourselves and our customers as safe as we can. We feel helpless.”
“People are scared,” Valerie says simply, “But I want them to remember the joy of eating out. Our restaurant was always full of people, and it’s so sad to see it with just a few customers. We’re doing our best during these times to make sure our customers get the best service and food, regardless. We’re trying to stay optimistic, but we feel like one thing affects the other: the waiters are gone and we worry that customers will complain about the service and not come again, and we’ll make even less money than we are right now. I think larger food chains can withstand the financial blow that the coronavirus has dealt us, but we can’t. We’re in this on our own, just trying to make a living.”
“Our restaurant is a lovely place, we make everything ourselves, and we want to keep it running. We hope people will start eating out again soon. You’re invited to visit, of course!” Valerie adds kindly. “I’m sure Stephane can cook up something to your liking!”
Restaurant owners have a chance to show their customers how much they care about their health, especially during the pandemic. Customers can come to trust restaurants again when shown all the regulations to ensure their safety are kept at the highest standard. This isn’t a one-way street, though. Customers have a chance to show business owners in the food industry how much they appreciate their services too, by supporting local businesses through these trying times.
The “Carrousel” restaurant is located at RAANANA ZAKHIN 3, you can call to make a reservation at 09-7460586.