By Mike Hazlip –
Jose Osuna opened Panchito Mexican Restaurant three years ago in Citrus Heights, fulfilling a dream of serving home-cooked food from 50 years old family recipes.
Together with his wife, Rosibel, the Osuna’s were able to grow their business at 7683 Auburn Blvd., just south of Antelope Road. The restaurant now boasts over 150 reviews on Yelp, with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Their first year was off and away to a slow start, but business picked up the second year, and by January 2021 the pair were optimistic for a good year. Then COVID shutdowns and stay-at-home orders took effect, banning dine-in eating.
Osuna says business dropped 50%. He’s closed indoor seating and it has stacked tables and chairs on top of booths. Outdoor dining is also banned under the latest Dec. 10 county health order, although many restaurants continue to serve patrons outdoors anyways.
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A number of federal, state, and local programs for businesses influenced by COVID-related shutdowns, but the Osuna’s feel lost in the bureaucratic maze intended to help businesses like theirs.
Osuna said he stood in line for any patio heater as part of Sacramento's Patio Heaters for Small Business program, only to find his business didn't qualify since it was for Sacramento city businesses, instead of all businesses in Sacramento County. The city gave away 400 patio heaters, according to an earlier report by CBS13.
Osuna also applied for a Payroll Protection Program loan, but was denied. He states he found the online application confusing and was unclear if the business owner should list themselves being an employee, a common complaint among other manufacturers The Sentinel has interviewed.
When inquired about the Great Plates Delivered enter in Citrus Heights, Osuna said he was not aware of the opportunity. The program used FEMA and state funding to reimburse local restaurants who delivered free meals to seniors and at-risk individuals.
The program assisted six local restaurants, however the City Council voted unanimously to end the program last week, after learning that the outside funding for the program wouldn’t reach the city’s coffers for 12 months. Since launching in May, this program has injected around $2 million in to the local economy, which has been fronted through the city.
From Sept. COVID Relief: Restaurant stimulus has injected over $1.1M into Citrus Heights economy
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To help out, Rosibel started putting in more hours at the restaurant in addition to her regular full-time job. She says checking up on licensing and utilities has been difficult.
\”Today we went to the bank to see what we can do,\” she said within an interview on Saturday. \”We don't wish to close the restaurant. It's his dream, and I'm here to support him. But times are so hard. We need to pay for the license, they don't forgive that. Trash, SMUD, PG&E, don't give discounts.\”
Rosibel said she called SMUD, but was told to turn off unused lights. The SMUD website outlines a price reduction program aimed at residential customers, but it's unclear if businesses can take advantage of the offer.
PG&E does offer financial help for business customers, according to the company's website, which says service disconnections for non-payment are not currently being conducted — including for small business customers. The company is also waiving security deposits.
In taking into consideration the option of temporarily closing the restaurant, Osuna said a significant factor would be food spoilage. He said a temporary closure would mean he would not have the funds to re-order fresh ingredients for his entrees.
\”You possess a product that you need to move,\” he explained. \”The meat, chicken, tomatoes, beans — everything is homemade.\”
Other adjacent businesses are also affected. Rosibel said Tiffer's Studio hair salon and Scorecard bar have been closed most of the year.
As with many small retail centers, the performance of 1 business affects the others. Customers from Scorecard and Tiffer's will come to Panchito, boosting traffic for all three businesses.
Despite the setbacks, Osuna said he’s not lost hope and it has implemented a family meal special in DoorDash, providing a lift in revenue.
Although the online delivery service has helped Panchito keep the doors open, Uber Eats takes 30% of the tab, cutting into a previously slim profit for the Osuna’s. DoorDash often takes 20%, but reduced its commission fees to 10%, based on an April report by Fox Business.
Panchito's regulars have helped keep your business going, but Osuna says business needs to increase if he is to keep the restaurant open.
\”We have hopes, there exists a lot of hopes,\” he said. \”We need to work a lot more. We need more customers.\”
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