Every USC student knows that finding a parking spot outside of Jacks N Joe shouldn’t be this easy.
Normally, students vie for a coveted space outside the pancake house off of Figueroa St. Jacks N Joe has been a Trojan staple for the past 10 years, reflected by a consistent stream of patrons that group along the restaurant’s patio and wait longingly for a table to open up.
“Jacks N Joe has always been able to support itself,” said Vianney Bednorz, the restaurant’s co-owner.
Then, the coronavirus hit. Now, the once-crowded lot outside of the restaurant is vacant.
“I’m not even doing a fraction of what we would do normally,” Bednorz said. “If I do not reopen, I will lose my business.”
Like many small businesses across the United States, Jacks N Joe has not yet received funding from the Federal CARES Act that was drafted to jolt the economy. Bednorz’s attempts at applying through her local banks have been futile and drawn-out. As would-be patrons continue to stay at home, the family-owned restaurant is quickly losing time and money.
“We’re falling behind, but that’s not by our doing,” she said.
Now, Bednorz is taking drastic measures to stay afloat. Her usual staff of about 20 employees is cut to seven. Tirebiter Brewery next door - which Bednorz co-owns with her husband and daughter - has shut down indefinitely. On April 18, Jacks N Joe posted on Facebook that they need a “minimum of 40-50 customers per day,” to make it to May 15 - the current stop date for stay-at-home orders issued by LA County.
It’s hard to operate as a small business without a sense of frustration over how CARES Act funding has been distributed. While Jacks N Joe falls three months behind on rent, huge corporations, it seems, are getting their money first. Just down the street from Jacks N Joe is the Staples Center - home to the Los Angeles Lakers, who recently gave back their $4.6 million in federal funding.
“The small businesses aren’t even asking for millions of dollars,” Bednorz said. “I get it that nobody wants to come out of pocket for it, but you’re talking major corporations.”
Jacks N Joe only offers pickup, as opposed to delivery using a third-party service like Uber Eats or Grubhub. Bendorz decided the commission fees for working with these companies would be too high.
“Unfortunately many of the fees associated with delivery apps are fees we can’t incur at this time,” she said in an email. “I would rather any money we make go toward my payroll.”
The bigger issue, however, revolves around getting more customers. Government stimulus checks are finite, but if stay-at-home orders were lifted, Bednorz says Jacks N Joe would see a revenue stream again.
“I’m not expecting any donation,” Bednorz said. “I just need customers.”
Other family-owned restaurants see the present circumstances as a more promising opportunity.
Danny Hizami owns Figueroa Philly Cheese Steak - a drive-through sandwich shop outside the Banc of California Stadium and the Coliseum. Hizami shut down operations on March 18 once the stay-at-home orders were issued, but reopened as he saw cars get back on the street towards the end of April.
Hizami has adjusted by re-tooling Figueroa Philly Cheese Steak by expanding its menu and operating as a ghost kitchen - when restaurants eliminate all dine-in options and model themselves off of pickup and delivery.
“There are a lot of ways to innovate during this time,” Hizami said. “We can’t run our business the way we did a month and a half ago.”
Yet not all restaurants on Figueroa St. have the same opportunity to adapt. Figueroa Philly Cheese Steak has a drive-thru option, while Jacks N Joe relies on dine-in services.
Bednorz is currently offering take-out options, but sales are slim - people don’t order pancakes to-go. According to Bednorz, the entire restaurant now brings in $2500 per day, which is less than half of what they would expect on an off-day under normal conditions. Most of this revenue is spent from paying employees, while rent checks continue to go unpaid.
“It’s the worst of times,” Bednorz said.
“It’s particularly unfortunate that one of USC’s favorite places to gather is being threatened by something that’s entirely out of their control,” said Meera Keskar, a junior majoring in economics and international relations.
Keskar is a regular at Jacks N Joe. She has a favorite waitress, sits at the same table table and orders “the combo three" whenever she can. Keskar visits the restaurant every other week with a friend, and has brought family members there as a way to introduce them to the USC area since arriving her freshman year.
Now, however, Keskar is back at home in the Bay Area taking online classes. She shared Jacks N Joe’s Facebook post as a way to show support in the only way she could.
“I just felt some sense of responsibility as someone who goes to this school,” she said. “I struggle to think of a place where the concentration of customers is so densely USC students.”
While USC engages in ad-hoc programs to help small businesses around the area, Jacks N Joe continues to operate with customers as their only lifeline. The restaurant has not been contacted by USC about receiving any support.
Meanwhile, as rallies for businesses to sue the government in protest of business closures grow, it’s hard for Bednorz not to sympathize.
“They say that we can only open essential businesses,” she said. “But this business is essential to me.”