Preyor-Johnson: Panchos & Gringos owner dreams of returning to work

Located in the Dignowity Hill neighborhood on the East Side of San Antonio, Panchos & Gringos has been at the center of owner Sergio Calderon’s life since it opened in November 2012. Immigrant is his American dream. Or it was – until COVID-19.

As the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott create policies to help rebuild the economy, they have their unique approaches. Whether you agree with their policies probably depends on your political leanings. To me, Abbott’s recent decision to end $ 1,200 in monthly federal unemployment benefits is heartless. But hearing a story from a local small business owner puts policies in perspective.

Like most restaurants and businesses in San Antonio, Texas, and the United States, a “We’re Hiring” sign hangs around Panchos & Gringos.

Behind his face mask, customers hear the same Calderon – welcoming and sympathetic, even as he rushes in, clearly stressed. The pandemic has taken a sad and significant toll on it. He wants nothing more than to get back to normal.

He is not alone.

President Joe Biden acknowledged that restaurants had “suffered badly” during the pandemic, offering them additional assistance.

The Texas Restaurant Association, or TRA, which represents the state’s $ 70 billion restaurant industry, joined a May 13 letter from the Texas Association of Business and 37 other business organizations about of what they call their work crisis.

The TRA has more than 50,000 sites and a workforce of 1.3 million employees. He says businesses that survived the 15-month pandemic are now struggling to rebuild due to labor shortages.

The TRA called on Abbott to end the state’s participation in the additional federal benefit of $ 300 per week that is on top of standard UI. He also wants to promote employment opportunities through the state and explore support – possibly from the American Rescue Plan Act – to help those re-entering the workforce.

So when Abbott announced the end of supplemental federal unemployment benefit on May 17, small business owners like Calderon were relieved. They try to keep their business going, even when many businesses have failed.

Calderon refuses to give up.

Calderon, who grew up in Mexico and moved to San Antonio from the East Coast, says he’s invested everything he has in his business. At 63, he does everything. He greets the guests, waits and drags the tables and cooks.

He also had COVID-19 this winter. He was having trouble breathing and went to the doctor for treatment. That’s around the time he posted photos of his empty restaurant on social media: “Es sad lo que covid 19 le está afectado al mundo !!! (It’s sad what COVID-19 is doing to the world !!!!)

He estimates that he has lost between 100,000 and 150,000 dollars so far and that he has accumulated credit card bills. The pandemic relief assistance he received has all but disappeared.

Before the pandemic, Calderon said, he had six employees in the front of the house and five in the kitchen on weekends. Now he has four employees: two in the front, and his son and an assistant in the kitchen.

If he doesn’t find experienced cooks and waiters soon, he fears his business will not be successful.

Half of his 25 tables and chairs are stacked on the side of his restaurant and at home, as his small staff can’t handle more customers.

“I want to put the other tables and chairs back, but without employees I can’t do it,” he said.

Calderon continues to work and keep the faith. He sees his restaurant bustling with life again – a full staff happily serving a diverse crowd of retirees, politicians, doctors, police officers, families and others in fellowship. He imagines them ordering homemade American and Mexican dishes, cooked from scratch, of which he is so proud: plates filled with cheese omelets, chewy pancakes and stuffed tacos.

He always tries to remember the names of his customers, doing everything he can to make regulars and newcomers feel comfortable while serving them food that will inspire future visits.

He continues to hope.

“This is my American dream,” he said. “I can not stop.”

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