VVeronica Brown, owner of Salvador Dobbs as well as Little Gretel, has had one heck of a year. While both of her establishments were closed in March upon government orders regarding COVID, they were both ultimately allowed to re-open, albeit with limitations.
However, within a couple of weeks, Salvador Dobbs (a bar) was closed yet again, and this time, there appears to be no end in sight. We caught up with her to see how she is holding up, how her business intends to survive, and what she is doing to navigate an almost impossible situation.
She begins, “Mid-March we were ordered to close our doors and it was devastating. It was the restaurant and the bar. The restaurant could do to-go, but the bar was gone. In the beginning it was super hard to leave my restaurant and see the parking lot at Dobbs empty. The lights were off. I’d come to work the next day and realize I had to clean the water lines and syrups and garnishes. It was so depressing. As weeks and weeks go by you realize that bills are still coming and they don’t stop. Leases, rents, mortgages, loans, utilities… they keep coming in. It’s back-breaking.”
The following month, Little Gretel was allowed to re-open under limited occupancy. However, Dobbs would be forced to wait until late May for it to be allowed to open. She continues, “We opened on a Friday night. We were opening up and we had like 3 days to prep the whole building. It was like opening a new business with new rules and signage and everything – staff had to be re-trained, orders had to be made, get the ice machine going…it was a massive job of starting a new business in 3 days and I had to do it all just by myself. The doors opened and we had a great weekend. We followed the rules, and did everything they told us to do. We had signage everywhere telling people how they had to behave, and we did it by the book. It was amazing to have that feeling of being open and having my friends back and it was like my 1st day of opening again. All the smiling faces, and the patio was packed, we had a doorman, and it was just great.”
After a brief run of being open, after hiring an all new staff (many quit and left during the lockdown), after setting the business back up with new guidelines and regulations, Salvador Dobbs was closed yet again. She explains, “I just sat there on my living room floor crying. I have 3 children I have to feed. My bar is closed. Until when? Months? We have no insight into anything. It could be through the end of the year. The uncertainty is eating away at me. I opened the bar that morning we were closed at 10am just to prove a point and some friends came in for a farewell cocktail.”
Currently, nothing has changed. The lockdown on bars continues without any indication of its end. She angrily says, “I’m sitting in my office right now in an empty bar and the lights are out. The signs are off. There’s no music. I’m throwing away more supplies. I have rent. I have loans I had to take out 2.5 years ago. I have leases on much of our equipment. Then I had just spent all this money, thousands of dollars, on alcohol the day before we were shut down. All of that is going to go bad. I have these expenses and nobody cares in the government. It’s exhausting and infuriating.”
Beyond the loss of income and the emotional capital she has spent, the building itself is struggling. She continues, “My beer guys come through and clean all my equipment…that I’m not using. If you’ve ever had a house that you decided to rent out and it sits vacant, what happens to it? Bugs come in, things break, and the whole house starts falling apart. We have ants in the bar I’ve been battling lately. Without any people, there’s nothing to stop the things breaking down. As an owner, this is my baby. I have no staff. It’s just me, bringing my kids in here to just clean up the edges and standing around in my empty bar. The toilet is leaking now. Why? Because nobody is using it. It’s crushing.”
What’s also crushing to Brown is what she sees as the hypocrisy of the lockdown. She explains, “There’s a bar down the street that is open because they have a restaurant. County by county, keep it limited based on local infections and numbers…but they didn’t give us any option – they just shut us down. I have a 9 month old baby and children can go to school this year and I’m sitting here crying again today over it. It’s depressing. I do Facebook videos so people just don’t forget that we exist. My family stresses about me and they call me to encourage me, but there’s nothing anybody can do. Is the government going to pay my bills? Are they going to help me? NO, obviously. If we had a choice to limit occupancy or using other standards for safety, fine. But I don’t even get an option. I just get my business taken away from me. The most dangerous spot in Kendall County? Going to a bar is the most dangerous thing you can do? Come on. It’s hard to call my staff and say “I know we’re closed, but PLEASE don’t leave!” They’re going to do what they have to do, but it’s gut wrenching. And now I have to re-open eventually for the 3rd time.”
Brown, visibly upset, tries to find some perspective. “There’s a plan for everything and I guess there’s a reason for me having to go through this. I have no choice right now, and it’s my livelihood. We all have a right to earn a living, except for me? Some bars have tried to fight the lockdown, and they get shot down. People have defied the orders because they HAVE to, and they get arrested? Where are we living? As we sit today, there’s not a single case in Kendall County. That blows my mind and to say its frustrating is to say the least.”
She finishes, “I’ll survive. Dobbs will survive. We hope you’ll come back to visit when we’re allowed to re-open. Which I hope is soon. But for today, I’m sitting in my dark bar, in my tiny office, entertaining.