Give people what they want in El Pipila
Originally focused on food from the Mexican state of Guanajuato, this mother-daughter business has expanded its menu to connect with an evolving local community.
All Zagat stories are written by our editorial team. This story is presented by our partner Chase SapphireÂ®.
Through the hardships of the past year, restaurants have been there for their communities. They’ve moved on to take-out, provided meals for essential workers, and more. The Sapphire Support Restaurants Contest is awarding $ 50,000 in business grants from Chase Sapphire to 20 small-business restaurants across America to provide recovery assistance in the event of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zagat Stories features interviews with all of our Sapphire Supports Restaurants Contests grant recipients.
Brenda Juarez is Managing Director of El Pipila restaurant in San Francisco.
Our restaurant is located directly across from Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco. Behind our building is Zynga and Pinterest is in the other corner. Before the pandemic, from time to time, these technicians came to eat here. We were working with three or four third-party companies. Two were delivered to different offices in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and the other two are said to be delivered to tech companies in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Oakland. And outdoor events and festivals – there is one very popular in the Bay Area called Off grid. We were at Picnic at the Presidio, make mangoes on a stick and agua fresca.
Before COVID, we had 12 employees. This includes my sister, my mother and myself. We heard that Airbnb is going to be blocked. I think it was late February when the rumors started coming in. It was things like, “Oh, we could shut down because of everything that’s going on.”
Then, in March, one of our clients arrived and he said to himself, âWe are closing our doors starting next week. We don’t come to the office. That’s when we were like, âOh my God, what’s going on? What’s going on? âThat’s when it all stopped, and we had to let go of everyone.
We closed for two weeks, from late March to early April. My sister said to me, âHey, the payments are going to start coming out of the bank account. We don’t have enough money. At the time, we had three loans for the construction of the restaurant. The total monthly loan payment was $ 6,000. It was on top of the rent and everything.
My mom and sister basically volunteered to come back to work. The first day was April 1 and we sold $ 35 all day. We had to get rid of a lot of food from the previous week. Then a lot of catering orders were canceled. Some of them were paid, some were not. Sometimes for the whole week we earn $ 200. We were just waiting to see the rest.
Then the city of San Francisco started a senior dining program, so we were preparing two meals per pickup. We delivered on Monday and Tuesday, and another business received on Wednesday and Thursday. So we have been doing this throughout the pandemic. We made another one called Dinner11 which feeds the women and families of the halfway houses. We started making burritos for a program called the Burrito Project. Once a month, they distribute burritos to the homeless in a certain area. We were making 300 burritos a month. We still make them burritos.
We had to do this to be up to date with our rent. My mother has a work permit, not a naturalization certificate. Lawyers have said not to take any state or federal funds because you may be charged with a felony. We were therefore not eligible for the PPP rounds. We had to work as much as we could to get the money to fund our business. So it was a lot of work, work, work, pay, pay, pay. Once we paid off the rent we owed, we were able to hire someone for a few hours. We would be here at 5 am packing these meals for the elders. When we closed we had to stay and prepare for the next day. So it was a lot.
I have a two year old daughter. She was one at the time. My personal issues were like, who is going to help me take care of my daughter? How can I be more help for my mother and my sister? About 90% of my time was with my daughter and the other 10% came to work. We weren’t paid. Each of us has used our personal savings or credit cards to pay for our personal affairs. It was a difficult situation.
Before COVID, the three of us were going in different directions. We were doing our own thing. It brought us closer and closer to each other. We all knew what we had to do, and it was work. We got to talk a lot about the problems at the restaurant together. It just brought us closer as a team.
We weren’t making burritos before all of this because we didn’t want to be classified as a taqueria. We started making burritos because there was a lot of construction around the building, and they wanted burritos. We were like, âOK, let’s go. If that’s what’s going to make the money, let’s do it right. And this is now one of our best selling items. We started to make tortas. My sister is starting to make custard for the restaurant.
Everyone was having the same problems with COVID. It didn’t just affect you, me or my neighbor, it affected everyone. Our customers appreciate what we do. People are nicer to everything. Some of the clients we have seen once or twice a week. Because the restaurant is really open, they see everything we do. They were like, âIt’s amazing how you keep the restaurant clean. I hear it all the time, since I’m the cashier. They were like ‘Thanks for cooking this for me’, or ‘Thanks for taking my order’ or ‘Thanks for being open. ”
Customers really care about us as a small business. They always come up and say, ‘How are you guys? Are you guys okay? They just want to be informed of everything that is going on because they have heard about the closure of a lot of restaurants. They say, âOh, I’m so glad you’re still here. It makes me feel good in what we do. The customers who come, I consider them as my family or my friends. We are starting to have deeper conversations. They could come with their wives or they could come with their children, and I’m like, âHow is your son? How is your daughter doing?”
We worked so hard that we weren’t going to close because we didn’t have the money. I said, “You know what? We have already done this. We can do it again. My sister said to me, âYeah, we can do it. My mom said, “Yeah, we’ve got that.” I was like, “Okay, let’s do it.”