The coronavirus pandemic has forced restaurants across the state to close. Some restaurants in Williamson County are now reopening, but many are losing money because customers are still wary of going out and limits on seating capacity.
Martin Arguello plans to open his new MOOYAH franchise, serving burgers, fries and shakes, in that environment later this month.
Arguello started planning to open the restaurant about a year ago, and signed on to open three franchises in the Nashville area last July. His plan was to open around May 2020. He’s still on track to follow that timeline.
"Who would have thought last year when I started doing this, that I would be opening a restaurant in the current conditions?” he said. "It's scary times, but I'm sure I can make the best of it."
Arguello had already started building out a space in the Hill Center for the new restaurant before the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Tennessee. That buildout was a costly investment, and rent payments will start soon whether he opens or not. Arguello said he needed to get the businesses operating to start generating some income.
“If you don't open, you're still stuck with all the fixed costs,” he said. “From an economic standpoint, opening the doors and trying to meet that break even point (makes sense).”
Despite the unfavorable conditions, Arguello is feeling confident. Restaurants that rely mostly on dine-in service have suffered the most during the coronavirus pandemic, but Arguello said he’s been talking to other restauranteurs with a strong delivery model who are making it work economically.
The restaurant in Brentwood, which could normally seats about 73 people, will open with 50% seating capacity, but Arguello said delivery will still be an important part of the business right now.
"With burgers and fries, I think that's a great to-go food. People get that all the time. It's not like it's a steak," he said.
Arguello has hired about 35 people, and he said it was relatively easy to find people willing to work. He advertised online and received hundreds of applications within a few days.
“I'm happy to say that I'm able to offer employment to folks who have been either let go or furloughed from their prior jobs due to this whole scenario” he said. “A lot of the folks who are coming in for interviews. They need work ASAP. They have bills to pay.”
The normal procedure for training the first cohort of employees at a new franchise has changed dramatically. Next week, a team from the MOOYAH corporation, which is based in Plano, Texas, will train employees on normal operational tasks as well as additional training to reduce the risk of transmitting the new coronavirus in the restaurant.
Arguello said he wants to build a restaurant with a healthy work culture where employees can learn new skills and have fun. The human resources department at the MOOYAH corporation normally tells franchisees to build that kind of culture by giving high fives to encourage employees. That’s not going to happen for a long time at the new restaurant.
Arguello plans to follow state and local guidelines about reopening during the coronavirus outbreak and strictly enforce cleaning procedures. On May 18, the restaurant will be open to the public.
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