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40% of US restaurants have closed because of the coronavirus — but one DC hotspot managed to turn a profit and rehire its staff

  • Four out of 10 restaurants in the US have closed because of coronavirus restrictions, and millions in the service industry have lost their jobs.
  • But in Washington, DC, top-rated Latin restaurant Seven Reasons managed to rehire much of its staff after transitioning to takeout and delivery service.
  • It's one of the rare restaurant success stories amid turmoil in the industry.
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It's a busy Friday night at Seven Reasons.

The Washington, DC, restaurant is still making money during a lockdown — even though it's empty. 

While most restaurants in America are struggling during the pandemic, Seven Reasons has gone from dine-in to delivery. And business is thriving.

"We sold $1,000 on Tuesday. We sold $3,000 Thursday. $4,000 on Friday," co-owner Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger told Business Insider Today. "We got so many orders that our system crashed. We ran out of food. We couldn't fulfill the orders. It was a disaster on one side, but it was amazing."

About a year ago, the Latin restaurant opened its doors on DC's buzzing 14th Street.

Started by Venezuelan chef Enrique Limardo and Vázquez-Ger, an Argentine consultant-turned-restaurateur, the eatery quickly became a local hotspot. Within a year, Seven Reasons was rated the top restaurant in the city by The Washington Post.

But things started to change when the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

"We have over 40 people working here, 40 people that depend on their weekly paycheck," Vázquez-Ger said. "At one point it became evident that we needed to close."

Seven_Reasons1_Armando_Gallardo

They weren't alone. As of mid-April, four in 10 restaurants in the country had closed because of the coronavirus. Around 8 million restaurant employees have lost their jobs or been furloughed since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the National Restaurant Association.

"Trying to explain to your staff that they have to be laid off is like something that you feel in your heart," Vázquez-Ger said. Limardo, meanwhile, called it "probably the worst day of my life."

That's when Seven Reasons made some changes.

The same night they laid off most of their staff, Limardo and Vázquez-Ger and got together and decided to take another risk as entrepreneurs — to pivot into a delivery and takeout business.

"The first week was complicated because there were only four of us working at the restaurant," executive sous chef José Useche said. "We did everything, from cooking to cleaning."

Loyal customers started ordering in, including some of Seven Reasons' most frequent customers who began ordering two or three times a month.

Seven_Reasons5_Armando_Gallardo"We were so busy. We were receiving like 17 orders per minute and we collapsed completely," Limardo said. "I was yelling like crazy, 'Shut down everything, we cannot serve!'"

And as business picked up, they were able to rehire 24 of their 40 employees — some in unfamiliar roles.

"'Hey, I have a job for you,'" Limardo said. "'Probably is not the same. You're a server, but now you're going to be a driver delivering food.'"

Among them is bartender Camilo Poveda, who rejoined the restaurant working three days a week.

Poveda started posting explainers on the restaurant's Instagram page on how to create his signature cocktails. Customers could order the supplies from Seven Reasons and follow his instructions.

"We didn't even have containers to deliver the products," Poveda said. "We had to work with what we had. It ended up being very successful. I received more than 115 orders. At one point, we had a list of more than 20 tickets. I didn't know what to do."

Seven_Reasons4_Armando_GallardoSeven Reasons made $40,000 the first week of April and $60,000 in the second week. The owners are hopeful they will reach their usual goal of $80,000 a week soon. 

With the restaurant profitable once again, the owners have also decided to give back. About 2.5% of their delivery sales will go to employees who were laid off or whose hours were reduced.

As of now, there is no reopening date for customers to dine in at Seven Reasons.

"Everything's going to be different," Vázquez-Ger said. "I really don't know how the world is going to look like, how people are going to feel about going to restaurants."

Seven Reasons workers celebrated the restaurant's one-year-anniversary last weekend, unsure of what the future holds, but determined to achieve at least one more goal:

"Hire the entire staff," Limardo said. "Everybody."

SEE ALSO: Video shows Samsung's AI-powered 'Bot Chef' kitchen assistant slicing, dicing, and stirring dinner in a skillet

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