Alexis Caribbean Cuisine has lost over 40% of its customers during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Alexis Caribbean Cuisine failed to achieve its goal of getting back 60 percent of its basic clientele two years after the reopening in July 2020. Many of its customers before the pandemic are still working remotely and the main façade of the building it is located in is under repair. The restaurant is now moving from Jamaica Avenue to 89-28 163 street in search of a better visibility.

Alexis Caribbean Cuisine opened in December 2016 at the lower level of Gertz Plaza Mall, on Jamaica Ave / Guy Brewer Boulevard in Jamaica. The lower level is managed by MyUnique Thrift, which leased spaces to small business owners, including Alexis Sutton, 44. Opening her own business was the best way for that Guyanese to engage in her integration in the United States where she landed in 2014 with husband and two little boys.

Alexis Caribbean Cuisine comprises two units, separated by an Asian restaurant, but the distance from one to the other might be 50 feet. In the larger space is the kitchen, in the back, and the bar, in the front, where customers order and pick their Alexis Caribbean Cuisine failed to achieve its goal of getting back 60 percent of its basic clientele two years after the reopening in July 2020. Many of its customers before the pandemic are still working remotely and the main façade of the building it is located in is under repair. The restaurant is now moving from Jamaica Avenue to 89-28 163 street in search of a better visibility.

Alexis Caribbean Cuisine started slowly with two employees. It was not evident at that time as Alexis Sutton did not have enough money to initiate the project. “I started from nothing and acquired equipment and materials progressively,” she explained. The menu encompasses fried fish, baked salmon meal, saltfish meal, oxtail, curry goat, stew fish, for lunch, with plenty of other choices for breakfast. It was about of keeping connected to her cultural roots through, not only the foods, but also the people which share similar cultural tastes. Managing her own business would also allow her to save some time to take care of her kids while bringing some money home.

The original investment was about 20.000. Soon, Alexis Sutton hired four more people to help her in running the business. In four years, she built a basic clientele, most of them working for companies located in the upper level of Gaetz Plaza Mall. Some were employees and customers of MyUnique mall. This mall sells used goods, such as clothes, shoes and household appliances.

From November 2019 to the beginning of March 2020, Alexis Caribbean Cusine’s revenue increased to 30% despite the fact that the restaurant is located very far inside the building.  “The restaurant was about to take off when the pandemic hit in March 2020.” remembered Sutton.

Beginning March, federal, state, and local governments were calling for lockdowns as they tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Trump administration blocked Europeans from traveling to the United States. Many people from Asia where the virus had been at its peak were transited by Europe before reaching America. On his side, New York Governor called his fellow citizens to stay home, especially avoid public transportation.

These measures affected negatively businesses like Alexis Caribbean Cuisine, which started noticing a customer shortage. Companies were testing remote working, so many of ACC’s customers had been working at home. Despite that, Mrs. Sutton decided to keep the business running, though she slowed down her daily investment. “I tried to hang on while adapting to the new reality as some customers kept coming,” she said.

As every business, Alexis Caribbean Cuisine was struggling but wanted to remain open during the shutdown. But, mid-March, the landowner decided to lock the whole space down, without notifying its tenants. Sutton had to close the restaurant for four months. She wished things went differently. “If the building’s landholder notified me, I could have moved to another place or brought stuff home to keep cooking and targeting new customers, such as medical staff,” she added. “I would like to be warned to implement a plan B.”

The closure had far-reaching consequences for Alexis Sutton. “The closure meant that I did not earn money for a certain time,” she stated. “But at the same time, it means that I lose or wasted money with the stock of items I brought to run the restaurant daily.”

Even some money from Paycheck Protection Program (a loan with 1% of interest) or the unemployment benefit could not draw Alexis Sutton off the boredom caused by the closure of her business. “All my life I have been doing business,” she said. “Not doing it and doing nothing else for four months was painful.”

Alexis Caribbean Cuisine reopened in July 2020; unfortunately, that was not a very happy event. Sutton found out she could count upon only forty percent of her customers. Almost two years after the number increased to about 15%, a large part of the people, which used to visit the restaurant every day, are still working remotely. She keeps adjusting her daily investment to that scarcity of, but it has lasted too long. The solution is to move to a more exposed place. 

Also, Alexis Sutton pointed out the refurbishment works that have been taking place for more than a year on the Jamaica Avenue façade of the building. These construction works make the building look unoccupied. Obviously, such repair works impact every business settled there, but Alexis felt tired with the shortage.

With such a slowness, Alexis Sutton has nothing to do but move away from Jamaica Avenue in search of more visibility. She has been enduring badly her failure of getting back sixty per cent of her original customers she had fixed as an objective when reopening in July 2020. Alexis Caribbean Cuisine is located on 89-28 163th street, in Jamaica, Queens. Alexis Sutton hopes for better in her new location.

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