El Charro Hipster Bar and Cafe has become a haven for the Phoenix arts community. But its owners aren’t sure how much longer it can stay afloat during the pandemic.
The Peralta family opened El Charro Hipster Cafe on Grand Avenue in Phoenix just a year and a half ago.
Francisco, Azul, and their daughter Gigi worked to make the restaurant and bar a haven for the arts community. The family said the cafe’s focus has always been “bringing back the art of conversation” – until they were forced to close down on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Peraltas said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego’s order to close gathering spaces that day by 8 p.m. “came out of nowhere.” They didn’t know if they could continue serving food, so they gave away all of their perishable items to the community before closing.
The family considered opening for takeout but felt it created many problems. Firstly, their artisanal, made-from-scratch menu didn’t translate well to a fast-food style environment. And secondly, they use only compostable materials – no plastic – so obtaining eco-friendly to-go containers was more expensive and took longer than for other businesses.
But once the closure of bars and restaurant rooms was extended from April 1 to April 30, the family knew they had to make it work. They decided to open only on Fridays and Saturdays, wearing masks and keeping customers six feet apart, to keep their name out there while trying to break even on operating and inventory costs.
“We want to give people hope, and us hope, that we’re still going to be there,” Gigi said. “And as my dad says, if you’re getting tired of eggs and ham in the morning, [we provide] some sort of break from reality.”
Currently, the family is offering gift cards online that people can purchase and use any time this year. They also had applied for small business loans from the government, but have yet to receive any money; they’ve heard it may take weeks. And on Tuesday, they found out they were not selected for a small business recovery grant they had applied for.
“Small businesses like El Charro Hipster are in danger right now,” Francisco said. “If this continues the same way, if the help doesn’t come by, it’s going to be harder and harder to keep going.”
Francisco said the family had saved up a small emergency fund, but they know it will only last so long.
“We don’t have any other income source,” he said. That’s our baby, El Charro Hipster.”
A Loss For the Community
When the Peraltas moved to Phoenix five years ago, they didn’t immediately get involved in the food business. They worked in finance and cleaning until deciding to take the leap and open El Charro, operating the business as a family with no outside hires.
“And we are only three. The company is us. This is a challenge, but for sure, we are learning a different perspective on the business,” Azul said.
Gigi said the family of three hoped to hire additional workers this year, but that has obviously been put off during the pandemic.
“It’s the first three days that we’ve actually been off for a year and a half,” she said during the week that they closed.
Gigi said one of the hardest parts about closing has been not seeing their customers on a regular basis. El Charro’s all-inclusive menu (offering options for vegans, vegetarians, meat-lovers, people going gluten-free, and more), handcrafted cocktails, and selection of 25 mezcals has attracted a loyal fan base.
“We have a personal connection with each person who walks in,” Gigi said. “We’re [normally] huggers.”
The spot adorned in colors inspired by Mexico City, the family’s hometown, also hosted regular open mics, live music, comedy events, art shows, and more when it was open.
Now with that community stuck inside, the family has shifted their social media to promoting food over events.
“Now it’s all about foods, nice pictures. Because now people have to go to El Charro for the food,” Francisco said. “We are changing whatever we have to change … to continue keeping the people coming to El Charro Hipster Cafe.”
An Uncertain Future
When restaurant closures looked like they may only be in place for two weeks, the Peraltas felt hopeful they could bounce back fairly easily. But now as the situation grows more uncertain, they are wondering if they will have to permanently close.
“There are two sides of the coin. One side, we have to follow the rules … [which] I think it’s a good thing,” Francisco Peralta said. “The other side, as many other small businesses, [we] are struggling right now.”
Gigi pointed out that the longer the pandemic lasts, the longer it will take for the economy to return to normal.
“What are the repercussions after [the pandemic], and how long is it going to take for us to take the reins again?” she asked.
While El Charro Hipster is getting support on the weekend from their community, they know many people are being laid off and may soon not be in the financial situation to eat out. The Peraltas haven’t turned toward offering delivery yet because of how much the companies reap from the restaurant’s sales.
“We’re still positive,” Francisco said, “but right now we’re starting to be kind of worried.”
El Charro Hipster Bar and Cafe
1325 Grand Ave., Phoenix
Open for takeout Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 8 p.m.
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