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Sacramento Restaurants Still Struggle To Survive

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, November 19, 2012

Sammie's and Salcido's Catering is a tan-colored burger barn that might once have been a house in East Nicolaus.  Three-and-a-half years ago, there was another restaurant here.   That owner closed saying the Highway 70 bypass of East Nicolaus had taken his business.

But, Fred Salcido saw an opportunity.  He opened Sammies almost a year ago. Today, the restaurant is busy.  

Outside, construction workers order tacos.   Inside, there's a mom and her boys sitting down to dogs and drinks after their game. 

When asked what he thinks the difference is between him and the guy who gave up and left, he answers, "My Food, My food speaks for itself, yeah..Oh yeah…my prices good food, you know."

Salcido says he's making a profit, but he wouldn't say it's been easy.  He hopes word will spread that East Nicolaus now has a place with high-quality food.

In East Sacramento Martha Mendoza hopes for more customer traffic.  Her family owns La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant near Elvas and Folsom Boulevard.  It's decorated to give diners a feel of Mexico.  There's Mexican music on the radio, a strand of green and red lights in the shape of chilis on the bar, and a ceiling that's bright blue.  It smells like carne asada.

They've been holding on, but only barely, for the past six years.  So far, they've lost their house, sold another restaurant to save this one, and laid off almost all of their employees, "It's hard when you're having troubles with money, you know.  What you can say?  No mas? Close down?  Try to sell it?  Who's goina buy it?  You know?  That's hard too."

 Their lives and business have ridden the roller coaster of the economy for more than a decade…Two years ago, they sold $120,000 in food and drinks.  That might sound like success until you subtract the cost of insurance, food, liquor, licensing and their $60,000-a-year rent.  Their actual profit: $14,000… for a family of seven. 

But, she has hope.  Unemployment's been falling and the economy's been growing a little.  Mendoza says last year, the family made …$30,000.  But, there are clouds on the horizon, "Right now it's getting a little better.  At least you make money for paying your bills. You know.  It's hard.  Right now, I probably haven't paid my taxes for I don't know, pr three quarters.  They've started calling saying, "we're going to take money from your account, and that's hard." 

She says all they can do is work hard and hope for the best.  

In the mid 90's, Michael Costello opened a simple brew pub in Davis called Brew It Up. Business was good, but he couldn't expand at that location, so he moved to H Street in Sacramento.  It was high-end and well decorated, with homemade beer kept in giant copper-clad vats.   But there were some things he couldn't contain, like his rent and his debt … Then his customer base shrank when the state started furloughing workers.    

 "We lost three houses in the process.  We leveraged everything. It was the early 2000's.  That was accessible.  It was acceptable. And it was…We were definitely shooting for a trajectory that wasn't sustainable obviously.

Last year, Costello closed Brew It Up. But he hasn't given up.  He says he has a small group of investors and a list of possible sites for a new venture.  One of the sites is an old gray warehouse and office in an industrial part of West Sacramento.  There are a lot of trucks going by, but there isn't a lot of competition.  He hopes a return to his restaurant roots will bring success a second time, "You can have a really good hand-crafted beer that's made on site. It's made right here in your town  It's the freshest beer you can get. Because  You can see the brewers. You can see the tanks. You can see the fermenters. and you know where it's coming from"

The forecast from the National Restaurant Association is promising -a three-percent increase in sales industry-wide.

Better yet, seven out of ten meals consumed are expected to be eaten at fast, family or casual dining establishments like Sammie's, the yet-to-be-named brew pub and La Fiesta.

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