The restaurant business is reliant on a strong local economy to keep customers coming through a door. A dramatic decline in business is never welcome. So what happens when an act of nature, such as Hurricane Harvey, closes your doors for a week or more? “These sorts of things are never fun to deal with,” says Thomas Nguyen, a Houston native and co-founder and owner of Houston’s Peli Peli restaurants. “Over the past few years, corporate spending has been down and business is even slower after Harvey. It’s understandable as a lot of people and communities were devastated by the storm. No one is going out on first dates.”
Make Sure Staff is Safe
Recognizing that employee safety was most important, Nguyen decided to close early on the Friday the storm arrived. “We closed the doors at four in the afternoon to give our employees time to get home and be safe with their families and in a better position to volunteer locally,” he said.
Many businesses were closed for a week or more after Harvey, including the four Houston-area Peli Peli restaurants. “Houston was shut down for a week,” recalls Nguyen. “It was surreal.” Though each of their locations sustained damage, it was minimal at the Katy location, which celebrated its grand opening a mere month before Harvey arrived. “The first step was determining that the restaurant itself was safe to open,” said Nguyen, “and that it was safe for employees to travel to work.”
Support the Community
The Katy location was back in business the weekend following the storm and spent much of the first week preparing, cooking, and handing out food to first responders, Red Cross, and other volunteers. “That restaurant is centrally located,” said Nguyen, who noted that most of the area’s roads were closed and all of Houston was trying to get home via Interstate 10. “We had a combination of corporate employees and staff and probably 60% volunteers – people in the area who were stuck in their homes and wanted to help and could safely get to the restaurant. It was truly an amazing thing to see. We had people cooking at Katy for first responders who weren’t even chefs — just people wanting to help. Thank you to everyone who came by for that help!”
Restaurant staff, who are often hourly workers reliant on tips, lost a week’s worth of income or their job entirely if their employer remains closed. Realizing this, Nguyen decided this was another way he could support his community. “We decided to pay eighty percent of our hourly workers’ wages during that week to help them get through that time.” Staff at all locations were provided wages for that closed week. “We could financially handle paying that,” said Nguyen. “Employees really appreciated it, it immediately built company morale, and it gave us a chance to take care of our staff.” [Read more…]