Saratoga Springs

Virus’ toll on restaurants continues to mount; Long-lived Saratoga Springs creperie to close

Ravenous on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs. Inset: Owner David Zuka. Credit: Erica Miller/Staff Photographer

Ravenous on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs. Inset: Owner David Zuka. Credit: Erica Miller/Staff Photographer

SARATOGA SPRINGS – One of the latest restaurant casualties in the pandemic is a long-lived creperie in the city, where the owners have reassessed their priorities and opted to close up shop.

Ravenous, at 21 Phila St., which has been in business under two different owners, will serve its last crepes on Nov. 30.

Even though owner David Zuka participated in the Paycheck Protection Program and received support from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program in the spring, those supports were imperfect.

“I maximized my forgiveness, but at the same time got penalized because I was also able to get an EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) grant. Give with one hand and take away with another,” he said. “I ended up kind of net-zero.”

The support programs provided benefit, he said, but not all of the programs work well for small businesses because of the work involved, the organization required, and the constraints under which businesses were required to operate.

“It does have a lot of benefit, but unless you’ve gone through it, there are some parts of it that don’t work for small business,” Zuka said.

Like many folks affected by the virus, Zuka assesses his priorities. The effect of the pandemic was part of his reasoning, but not the only part.

“My primary motivation is personal and family reasons, but it would be ridiculous to not think that the current economic forecast and the pandemic forecast haven’t played into my decision,” said Zuka, who intends to return to the greater Philadelphia area. “My primary goal right now is to respectfully, morally, ethically dissolve my business … with respect to everybody that’s associated with that complex transition.”

Other Saratoga eateries have also been hurt. Plum Dandy, a frozen yogurt shop, closed its doors late last month. The restaurant 2 West Bar and Grille is not open, and a notice on its door directs customers to visit its sister locations at Wheatfields Restaurant and Bar and BWP in Saratoga, and Wheatfields Bistro in Clifton Park.

The owner of West Side Sports Bar N Grille, Dave Harmon, has faced numerous challenges operating his restaurant, The Stadium at Wilton Mall, a collectibles retail store. The building at 389 Broadway, site of The Stadium Café, is closed too.

“We closed West Side the day before St. Paddy’s Day on the 16th, we reopened just for to-go business the end of April/the beginning of May,” Harmon said. “They let us open up the patio, which was really good, [and] we had to take reservations, that was good. [But the] situation we had was we were turning people away because we didn’t have enough seats.”

Despite additional restrictions being lifted, Harmon was still operating at a loss.

“When we were able to open up the inside and the bar we had a combination of to-go, the bar, the inside and the patio and we did very well,” he said. “We were probably off by 25 to 35 percent.”

The cooler weather will now eliminate the outdoor seating.

“We have a very loyal customer base and then now that we lost the patio, we went down another 25 percent.”

Harmon is hopeful that he can make it through the winter.

“The only thing I can control is the labor and the food cost,” he said. “I’m playing it so close to the vest because that’s the only way that I’m going to be able to get through to get to the springtime.

“We all have to try to work together to get through this; unfortunately, there is going to be some casualties, and that bothers me.”

Harmon said he could not comment on the situation at 389 Broadway on advice from his attorney.

Business owners are making decisions based on not just the coronavirus restrictions, but on other factors as well. Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said that Zuka and another business owner, Maura Pulver of Five Points, a market and deli at 42 Park Place, decided to do something else. “It really got them to think about what was important to them and how they wanted to spend their time,” Shimkus said.

“I think we’re seeing more [closures] this year than we have at least in the 10, 11 years that I’ve been here,” Shimkus said. “The reality is that restaurants, local stores are still under significant restrictions.

“I think it’s particularly hard for those — like Dave — really small spaces and who don’t own their buildings.”

The challenges are not limited to Capital Region business.

“We did a survey in August and it said without additional financial relief 64 percent of the people we surveyed said they were likely or somewhat likely to shut down before the end of the year,” said Melissa Autilio-Fleishut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association president and CEO. They haven’t really received that additional financial relief in the form of another federal package for COVID.”

Since the survey, New York City was allowed 25 percent occupancy in its restaurants.

“I think you’re going to likely see more closures as we continue to move through this.”

Saratoga’s Zuka pivoted like many of his competitors. He developed his takeout business, his menu was online, and his agreements with online delivery services were already in place. Still, he reduced his staff from 18 to six.

Zuka said he is willing to leave his crepe and pancake batter recipes, crepe pan and utensils in the right hands.

“The business and its physical assets are available,” Zuka said. “I think it would be a great opportunity for somebody who wants a small business because it is still a viable, small business.”

Meanwhile, in Schenectady, the building where Mexican Radio is housed as 325 State St. has been listed for sale at $2.95 million, but the manager there declined to discuss the property listing with The Gazette.

Categories: Business, News, Saratoga County

One Comment

William Aiken

It is beyond dishonest for the media to characterize these hardships of business as the result of the pandemic. The businesses destroyed are the result of government issued restrictions. Sweden dealt with Covid by choosing to have very limited restrictions on the public. Their schools were never closed (not a single Swed student has died from Covid). They chose not to shutdown their economy, like we foolishly did. These shutdowns have ruined the restaurant industry among many others. They are a self-inflicted wound.

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