Durham restaurants at risk of closing for good

Durham restaurants are at risk of closing for good. Several owners are working to keep their businesses open through collective action.

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Lora Lavigne
, WRAL Durham reporter
DURHAM, N.C. — Durham restaurant owners are once again hanging on by a thread.

Sales have dropped nearly 80%, while third-party delivery apps can take upwards of 50% per transaction from businesses and charge customers additional delivery fees.

“Our loyal customers are trying their best,” Fasil Tesfaye, the owner of local Ethiopian restaurant Goorsha, said. “That is what’s keeping us.”

To be interviewed, he had to close his business since he was the only chef working.

“It’s difficult,” Tesfaye said. “You never stop. You wake up in the morning and think about that, then I’m opening from 8 o’clock to 10 o’clock consistently. I don’t see my kids like used to.”

Local business owners are saying that providing the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for restaurant employees – masks, gloves and other protective gear – is becoming a tax they cannot afford.

“Right now, I’m tied up,” Tesfaye said.” There’s nothing else I can do.”

In North Carolina, restaurants are required to “perform ongoing and routine environmental cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas” according to interim guidance for restaurants made by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’re battling low sales,” Zweli’s Kitchen restaurant owner Leonardo Williams said. “We’re battling protecting our staff and our families. We’re battling the expense of price gouging, and we’re also battling the additional tax for PPE.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Durham’s small business coalition was able to join a public-private partnership. They received $3 million in loan and grant opportunities for small businesses.

However, with thousands of small businesses in the area, those funds were unfortunately inaccessible to some and evaporated quickly for others.

“Is that enough for us to sustain this business?” Williams said. “Right now, no. It’s not. We’re just going on reserves.”

To keep sustaining the business, he and other owners have come together to develop mutual collective aid for themselves.

Their three main initiatives include delivery initiative Durham Delivers, festive entertainment The Streetery and Shop Durham, a way to encourage residents to shop locally.

Durham businesses are also working on bringing the community together to create funds to cover the costs of businesses’ rent/utilities.

“Go to that local restaurant rather than a chain,” Williams said. “Because they can wait. We can’t.”


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