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For Some Restaurants, Closing Can Be Just As Stressful As Staying Open

NOEL KING, HOST:

Nearly 1 in every 5 U.S. restaurants has gone dark temporarily or forever in the past year. Adrian Ma and Cardiff Garcia from NPR's Indicator podcast tell us about one restaurant that called it quits.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CARDIFF GARCIA: In a lot of ways, it feels like a typical morning at The Kitchen Cafe. That's this smallish hipster joint in downtown Boston.

JAYME VALDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ADRIAN MA: Except today is The Kitchen Cafe's very last day of business.

How do you feel right now?

VALDEZ: My friend, I feel relief.

MA: So that's Jayme Valdez. He and his wife own the place.

VALDEZ: I feel relief. I've been looking forward to it call it done. For me to stay open, I need to sell a sandwich for $50. Nobody's going to pay me $50 for a sandwich, but that's my cost right now.

MA: Between the rent and labor and insurance, The Kitchen Cafe was losing about $10,000 a month. So, yeah, closing was actually a weight off Jayme's shoulders.

VALDEZ: I have a team of 20 people. I'm having trouble sleeping, just waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning, you know, running numbers just to try to see what I can make different, who I have to let go or who can do the job of two. Everybody talks about the light at the end of the tunnel. You know, we don't know when the light is going to click on or if it's ever going to click on.

GARCIA: Rather than waiting on an uncertain rebound, Jayme had decided to simply cut the losses.

MA: But the process of shuttering a restaurant isn't as simple as locking the doors and walking away. There are all sorts of hoops to jump through, contracts to dissolve, spaces to clean, final bills to pay.

GARCIA: Yeah, and every piece of furniture, every piece of art on the wall, every jumbo-sized can of beans had to be sold or stored or junked, a process that Jayme Valdez says set him back at least 5,000 bucks.

MA: Jayme figured if they could get out fast, the landlord might be able to find a replacement tenant. If not, Jayme and his wife would have to keep paying rent and insurance and utilities, meaning they'd be out about 25 grand.

GARCIA: And this restaurant that took four years to build had to be cleared out in about two days. Jayme and his staff worked all through the night.

VALDEZ: I think the hardest part as an owner was the decision to close. I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. I still don't know if we did the right thing, but I just couldn't keep on.

MA: Shutting down the restaurant did end up costing tens of thousands of dollars, but Jayme and his wife stopped the bleeding, and now they can start over. Adrian Ma.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cardiff Garcia is a co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money podcast, along with Stacey Vanek Smith. He joined NPR in November 2017.
Adrian Ma
Adrian Ma covers work, money and other "business-ish" for NPR's daily economics podcast The Indicator from Planet Money.

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