Letter from a heartbroken restaurant owner in Seattle
Desirae Aylesworth has always worked in restaurants. Of all the places she’s worked, Wild Mountain Café has a special place in her heart; it’s been a constant in her life.
Throughout her time here she’s gone through break-ups, a marriage, a growing family. But like most people in the restaurant business, the coronavirus has turned her world upside down.
Aylsworth shares her story about the hard decisions she’s made, her fears and her hopes during this period of uncertainty.
To whom it may concern,
I have lived in Seattle for almost 20 years now, which seems crazy to me as I don’t feel it’s been that long. I have been a part of this community now, integrated in the service industry for the duration of those two decades. I have put blood, lots of sweat, and lately, tons of tears into this process. With the uncertainty of what’s going to happen, each day is a struggle. Don’t get me wrong, I am very lucky and thankful for the things that I have: a beautiful family, a roof over my head, and food in the fridge. But if we rewind to a year and a half ago, nobody warned me of the dangers of a pandemic when buying a restaurant.
I have worked at the Wild Mountain Café now for over 10 years--as a hostess, waitress, bartender, manager. Now I own the place. The original owner opened in 2002, and after pouring all her hard work into it for years and years, she decided to part ways to focus on the horse-boarding business she had started. She approached me about buying the business because she wanted the restaurant to be led by someone who had been here for years, someone that was a familiar face for all of the wonderful regulars. I was hesitant at first, but having always worked two jobs at the same time to maintain a feasible income for my family, often early hours to late nights and over again, I thought, 'Sure, I can do this!' Having just had my second child not even six months earlier, I was nervous. Could I really pull this off? Will it be enough? What will happen with my family?
I have owned the restaurant since January 2019. My husband, a cook, kept working at another restaurant until the time came where it made sense to have him come work with us. He’s been with us for about six months now. We don’t have traditional childcare (nor could we afford it) so we work opposite hours to make ends meet.
Everything was going really well until earlier this year. Now, I know I am not alone in this. Restaurants have had to close their doors—some of them permanently, some temporarily, some have laid off staff, some have had luck with the takeout/delivery and have their entire staff still pumping out burgers and fries on the daily. The harsh reality for us is my husband, myself, and my two young daughters, aged 5 and 1, are here every single day. We take turns taking the few orders we get over the phone, cooking, feeding our kids, putting them to naps in the basement, handing phone calls from vendors, banks and everything else. We will keep doing this until we can’t anymore. With our daily sales reduced to about a quarter of what they usually are, we cannot afford our staff of eight.
I have dished out a few hours here and there to the Kitchen Manager and the Front of House manager, as they are essential to this business and their longevity of employment shows dedication. But it’s heartbreaking to think I can’t afford to pay the other staff members that are not only essential to this business as well, but have families to feed themselves.
Lawmakers, mayors, even the president himself has said that help is there. I have applied to every single grant, loan, assistance fund you can think of with little to no luck. There are restrictions for where your restaurant can be located to get assistance, how many employees you can have a small business to get assistance, and frankly—we don’t fall under any of them. I keep applying anyways. And while I know I’m not alone in this, it doesn’t keep me from being afraid, terrified, of what the future holds for me, as a new business owner that has legal repercussions held over my head on a daily basis if I can’t pay rent, payroll, or keep my doors open. For my family, that has this job and this job only as a source of income.
I skipped my own payroll multiple times in the last few weeks just to be able to pay my staff. I do not qualify for unemployment, so what do I do? For now, we keep our heads up, we work hard, and we pray for a miracle, for ourselves, and for the millions of other people that are navigating life in this truly unprecedented time. We hope for relief, but we know it’s far-fetched. And so, I ask for help. I don’t really care if I can afford new shoes, a gaming system, a trip to Hawaii or anything like that. What I care about are my two daughters that have no idea we are in such a hardship. That they don’t want for the essential basics of life. I care about my hardworking employees that are out of a job right now (and for the unforeseeable future) when all they’re trying to do is put a roof over their family’s head and feed themselves. There are people out there that have it worse off than us, and I know that.
We have done our part staying open, doing curbside for those families that need a meal, donating meals to our local hospital to the people that are truly working to save lives. The support we have had from our customers and regulars has been amazing. But, it’s not enough. Still, I worry. I can’t sleep, I can’t rest until I know that we, amongst others, will be OK. We are in this together, Seattle. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel very alone. When do we get help?