michael barbaro

Hey, It’s Michael. This week The Daily is revisiting our favorite episodes of the year, listening back and then hearing what’s happened in the time since they first ran. Today, the Hatch. From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

[music]

Across the country, nearly 100,000 small businesses have now shut down permanently because of the pandemic. Federal relief funding has stalled. And yet, some cities are now preparing for a second round of shutdowns.

Today: For the past six months, my colleague, Jack Nicas, has been documenting the experience of a single neighborhood bar in the Bay Area of California to understand the consequences for its owner, bartender and cleaner.

It’s Tuesday, October 6.

Jack, tell me about the Hatch.

jack nicas

So the Hatch is the classic neighborhood bar. I moved to Oakland in late 2015. And one of the first things you do when you move to a new city is you find your local dive bar —

michael barbaro

Right.

jack nicas

— at least if you’re me. And pretty quickly, I knew it would be the Hatch. It’s just a really perfect neighborhood bar in my view. It’s unpretentious, relaxed. The beer is cheap. You can always find a seat. And I ended up just spending a lot of time there. You know, my friends and I would gather around the uneven tables upstairs and spend long nights talking until close. And we’d watch the N.B.A. playoffs on a bed sheet that hung from the ceiling. And we just, uh — we made it our place.

archived recording

Good morning. Thank you for joining us here on Mornings on 2. It is Tuesday, March 17. Bars, nightclubs and restaurants closed at midnight.

jack nicas

So when the pandemic hit and I realized that small businesses across the country were going to close, my mind went to the Hatch. And I decided, let me follow this place for a few months and see what happens.

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm.

jack nicas

And so I check in on the Hatch on March 17. This is the day after Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, has ordered the state’s bars and restaurants to close.

jack nicas

So yeah, why don’t we just — do you mind if I record, by the way?

louwenda kachingwe

Yeah.

jack nicas

OK, cool.

jack nicas

And when I get there, I find the bar’s owner, Louwenda Kachingwe. Everyone calls him Pancho. And he’s packing up the bar’s booze and basically is in the early hours of trying to figure out what to do with his bar. And it’s a moment of enormous uncertainty.

louwenda kachingwe

I think the way that I’ve been processing it is, what can we do to stay open in some capacity, right?

jack nicas

And so you guys are going to pursue this. You’re going to do take-out?

louwenda kachingwe

We’re going to try.

jack nicas

So at this point, he’s thinking of moving to take-out. And it’s pretty much the only option available for bars and restaurants, besides shutting down.

louwenda kachingwe

We’re going to see what it looks like, what it entails, cause I have no clue still, right? And so but what does that look like?

michael barbaro

I’m curious what you were thinking at this point about whether Pancho is going to be able to pull this off.

jack nicas

Well, I’ll say that when I first met Pancho, he actually struck me as sounding pretty relaxed about everything that was going on. And I didn’t really know him, but as I learned his story, I got the sense that this is a guy who really has had to figure out how to deal.

louwenda kachingwe

Yeah, so I was born in Chegutu, and that’s basically —

jack nicas

Pancho grew up in the 1980s in a rural village in Zimbabwe. And he was the youngest of 13 kids. And when he was 10 years old, his dad, who was an academic, got a job at the University of Iowa. His siblings were much older than him. And he traveled alone with his parents across the world to Iowa.

louwenda kachingwe

So we get there, and we are the only Black family there, right? And people would be like, you talk funny, right? And they were like, why do you talk funny, right? And I’m just, like, all these things. I was so unsure myself.

jack nicas

Then, at 14 years old, something pretty drastic happened.

michael barbaro

Which is what?

louwenda kachingwe

At that point in time, there was some sort of dysfunction that was happening in the family, right? My dad — to this day, I still have no clue what happened.

jack nicas

So when he was 14, his mother came to him rather suddenly one afternoon and said, I’m going back to Zimbabwe. And I don’t want you to see your father anymore. We’re splitting up.

michael barbaro

Wow.

jack nicas

But I have rented an apartment for you, paid the rent for a few months. And here’s some spending money. And you’re going to live on your own.

louwenda kachingwe

And I was like, OK. And she was like, I packed your stuff. Let’s go.

jack nicas

It was set up already for you.

louwenda kachingwe

Yeah, it was already set up, right. So it was kind of both surreal, for one, right? And the way that I was like, wait, what happened, you know?

jack nicas

Suddenly, he was a 14-year-old kid living on his own.

jack nicas

How were you making do? Were you going to get groceries or take-out, or what were you doing?

louwenda kachingwe

No, I had two or three dishes that I knew how to make. I know pasta and eggs. That’s my go-to, right, and the best peanut butter sandwiches ever. So that was just it. And then whatever we had at school, whatever school lunches that were happening. I would do the frozen dinners. I learned how to budget really early on. I was just like, I’m going to budget, and just be like, what can I eat that can actually last me a long time, right?

jack nicas

So he would wake up in the morning, alone as a 14-year-old in an apartment, and make himself breakfast, dress himself, wash his clothes, go to school. And he just did that. He was a kid acting as an adult, but at night, as other kids were going home to their families, he was going home alone to his apartment.

louwenda kachingwe

I mean, there was definitely a lot of loneliness, right? I mean, basically, it was hard to sleep at night, and so I’d go on these long night walks, just thinking about the future really, right? I used to call them the future walks, right? And just being like, well, what are the things that you want to do? Or the thought that I would always have would just be, I’m like, well, can’t get any worse. I’m like, this is where you’re at now and that it can only go up, right?

jack nicas

And it does go up. Within a few months, he moves in with his best friend’s family. And he finishes high school, goes to college in Minnesota. Then he moves to the Bay Area, becomes a bartender. And a few years after that, he decides to go it on his own. And he looks across the Bay, where rents are cheaper, and he finds this old Hawaiian barbecue joint with orange carpets. And he turns it into the Hatch. And very quickly, Pancho found success.

michael barbaro

And when you say success, what do you mean?

jack nicas

They were busy from the outset, essentially. He said that in his first months, he was serving drinks in red solo cups, and he was sleeping upstairs on the couch. But the place was pretty packed. So, fast forward to this past spring. The Hatch is employing 17 people, and then the shutdown happens. And Pancho has to lay most of them off. And those employees are waiting to see if Pancho can keep the bar alive, survive the shutdown, and ultimately, bring them back.

michael barbaro

And what do you know about these people who were let go?

jack nicas

So, essentially, at the Hatch, like most bars, there is a front of the house and a back of the house. And the front of the house are the bartenders who were musicians and artists and photographers. And they’re mostly in their 20s and 30s, and they’re trying to make rent and some spending money to go out with their friends. And then there was the back of the house. And these were people in their 50s who are trying to survive and trying to support children. So I wanted to know what the shutdown would be like for people on both sides. And so in early April, with the help of a translator, I started talking to Maria.

jack nicas

[SPEAKING SPANISH] Okay, estamos aqui.

speaker

[SPEAKING SPANISH] Okay, hola Maria.

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH] Hola.

jack nicas

She was someone I had never seen before at the Hatch, because she would come in at the crack of dawn to scrub the floors and clean the tables where my friends and I drink.

michael barbaro

And what did you learn about her?

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

Maria is 55 years old. And she is from the Mexican state of Michoacán.

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

And in the late 1990s, her husband crosses into the United States without documents. And pretty quickly, she follows.

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

So her and her husband and Maria’s young stepdaughter all kind of start this new life in America. And working on fake documents, that cost about 20 bucks. Her husband is washing dishes and cooking in smoky kitchens across the East Bay here in the Bay Area. Maria’s collecting cans to get by. And together, they have two more kids.

So fast forward to a few years ago. The kids are grown. And she gets a job at the Hatch as a cleaner. And she makes about 400 bucks a week.

michael barbaro

So what does she do after Pancho has to make these layoffs?

jack nicas

Well, after the shutdown, her entire family is out of work. So her stepdaughter loses her job at a Toyota dealership. Her son is no longer working in construction. Her husband is out of work. And her daughter, who is in her senior year at high school, is taking classes from home. And really, this looks like what a lot of American families were going through. But the difference here is that because Maria and her husband are undocumented, there’s no $1,200 stimulus check coming her way. There’s no additional unemployment insurance coming her way. California has made $500 per undocumented immigrant available.

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

But she’s too afraid to apply for it because she figures it’s going to put her on a list.

michael barbaro

So how is she getting by?

jack nicas

So they’re going to a food bank. They’re eating more simple meals.

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

OK.

jack nicas

And Maria suffers from intense back pain. And she even has to stop going to physical therapy to deal with that. But her biggest worry is her rent that she owes in just a few weeks. And she doesn’t want to get kicked out of her apartment.

jack nicas

And so she’s not sure what she’s going to do?

translator

So she was saying that she has a little saving, that she was keeping for her daughter’s graduation. She was going to graduate this year, and she had $800 for the graduation.

jack nicas

Really, the only savings at this point that she has is this $800 that she’s been saving as a graduation gift for her daughter. She doesn’t want to spend it, but she says she has no choice.

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm.

jack nicas

Can you ask her how she’s feeling?

translator

Yeah, OK. [SPEAKING SPANISH]

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

translator

Yeah. OK, so she’s feeling a lot of sadness. And she’s very worried mainly because of the economic issues. They worry and —

jack nicas

I understand.

jack nicas

Maria tells me that she’s just desperate to get back to the Hatch. She’s much less worried about getting sick from the coronavirus than she is about making money and paying her rent.

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

interposing voices

Gracias. Adios.

michael barbaro

So Jack, who is the other person from the bar that you followed?

jack nicas

So the other person is Abel Oleson. He’s a 34-year-old bartender. And he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d expect to be tending bar at a place like the Hatch.

He’s got a bushy mustache. He wears vintage T-shirts. He has lots of tattoos he can’t explain.

Abel started working at the Hatch last fall. He got along with the staff, loved the customers. He was doing DJ nights upstairs.

abel oleson

Hey there, Jack. How’s it going, bud?

jack nicas

Good, Abel, how are you?

abel oleson

Uh, good, man. Just, you know, killing time at home. Playing a lot of video games, trying not to go outside.

jack nicas

So it turns out that the shutdown came at a really bad time for Abel. He just went on a big grocery run. He just paid off an overdue $270 phone bill. And essentially, he tells me he’s got about $20 in his pocket.

abel oleson

I live check to check. I live tip to tip as a bartender. So when I have $20 in my pocket, that is, could be kind of a scary thing. But it’s a temporary thing.

jack nicas

So now he’s hunkered down and quarantined with his girlfriend, who’s out of work as a budtender at a weed dispensary in San Francisco.

abel oleson

Honestly, we’re not spending a dime. We both kind of canceled all of our subscription services. And besides paying bills and food, we’re spending zero dollars, so.

jack nicas

But these are circumstances that are somewhat familiar to Abel. He spent much of his childhood in Portland with a single mom who was sometimes out of work. And he also lost his job as a bartender before when he was in his 20s and kind of was familiar with the unemployment process.

abel oleson

And I remember the system being very obnoxious. And I was fully prepared for that kind of bureaucracy again.

jack nicas

So the day after the lockdown began, he immediately applied for funds. He applied for government assistance. He applied for this bartender fund. He basically fanned out and looked for every source of money that he could get.

abel oleson

That’s the biggest problem right now, is just wait waiting for these things to come through and going food shopping and trying to kill boredom. And that’s kind of about it.

jack nicas

OK. All right, bye.

abel oleson

Yep, stay healthy man.

jack nicas

You, too. Thanks.

michael barbaro

So as of early April, Abel is waiting to see if he’s going to get government assistance. He’s applied for it. Maria is not eligible for any of that assistance and afraid to seek the benefits she could get from California. And so she’s running out of money.

jack nicas

Absolutely.

jack nicas

Hey, Pancho.

louwenda kachingwe

Hey, there you are. Hey.

jack nicas

How’s it going, man?

jack nicas

So as I was talking to Abel and Maria in April, I also reached out to Pancho to see how takeout was going.

louwenda kachingwe

Well, I started the takeout delivery service. So we were building it from scratch, right?

jack nicas

You said you did deliveries yesterday or today?

louwenda kachingwe

Yesterday. Yeah, I did delivery yesterday.

jack nicas

And how many you actually do?

louwenda kachingwe

I did one delivery, yeah.

jack nicas

So takeout is not going well. In the first week, the Hatch had nine orders, and I was one of them.

michael barbaro

Wow.

jack nicas

So that brought in $369 in the first week. And that obviously wasn’t going to be enough to help the business survive. And on top of that, he had multiple other complications.

louwenda kachingwe

Yelp lost all our ads, so that was a bit of a setback for sure.

jack nicas

The fact that he got locked out of the Hatch’s Yelp account because of an overdue advertising bill.

louwenda kachingwe

And —

jack nicas

Wait, so they blocked all your ads? Can you clarify that? What do you mean?

louwenda kachingwe

It says that we have to pay — we have a bill that we need to pay. So the number one platform that people use, we can’t advertise that we’re open and doing deliveries and takeout on it —

jack nicas

Wow.

louwenda kachingwe

— because they blocked us out.

michael barbaro

And why is that important?

jack nicas

It was important because without Yelp, in some ways, it was very difficult for them to tell their customers that they were even doing takeout now. Instead, I would watch the Hatch’s Instagram account post these increasingly desperate pitches to get people to come in. One of the Instagram posts that I remember is just Robin waiting bored by the phone, being like, please call me.

michael barbaro

But people weren’t.

jack nicas

No, obviously not. I mean, it was a really difficult start for the takeout business. And meanwhile, he was on the hook for more than $8,000 in rent that was upcoming. He had two cooks and his manager on salary. And he had no money coming in.

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm. And at this point, what are his options?

jack nicas

So around that time, Congress had approved a $349 billion package of small business loans for people just like Pancho.

michael barbaro

Right, PPP.

jack nicas

Exactly. So these are essentially forgivable small business loans that are designed to help small business owners just like Pancho, who are in this situation, to get a lifeline and keep their businesses alive and keep paying their employees.

louwenda kachingwe

So immediately I was like, well, I’m going to jump on this, because I suspected everyone will want to jump in on it.

jack nicas

Immediately, Pancho applies for one of these loans through Chase Bank.

louwenda kachingwe

So I put in the information. And they’re like, great, good job. They will send you a confirmation email. Email never showed up.

jack nicas

And it’s just completely a Kafkaesque experience.

louwenda kachingwe

And then, five days later, got another email. And they’re going, you can apply now. And I was like, I’m pretty sure I did. [LAUGHS]

jack nicas

Oh, no.

louwenda kachingwe

I’m pretty sure I already applied.

jack nicas

Pancho understood that he was competing against literally hundreds of thousands of other small business owners to get this money.

louwenda kachingwe

Then we were in panic mode. And I was like, oh, shit, we need to reapply now, right? Especially at that point, I’m like, oh, we are in so much trouble. So reapplied, and then Chase was like, sorry, you’re not eligible at this time to get a loan. So I’m like, OK —

jack nicas

Oh my god.

louwenda kachingwe

— this is the worst.

jack nicas

Wow. What a mess.

louwenda kachingwe

Oh, you — [LAUGHS]

jack nicas

Yeah.

michael barbaro

And how would you describe his state of mind at this moment? Because this is a pretty grim situation.

jack nicas

It was. This is a real crossroads for the Hatch and for Pancho. And I know that Pancho is disappointed that he didn’t get the money. Yet, when I’m talking to him, he still has this kind of dark humor about the situation.

jack nicas

I appreciate that you’ve got kind of gallows humor. I love that you can laugh about it.

louwenda kachingwe

Well, it’s one of those things where I’m like, well, I can’t really afford to be down in the dumps about it. I think I have to be proactive because, literally, people are depending on it, right? But so as long as there’s things for me to try, I have to keep going.

jack nicas

All right, man. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

louwenda kachingwe

All right. Bye, thank you.

jack nicas

All right.

louwenda kachingwe

All right.

jack nicas

Talk soon. Bye bye.

archived recording 1

It is Friday. It’s May 1st and May Day, Pam.

archived recording 2

Yes.

archived recording 3

The Bay Area shelter-in-place order extended through the end of this month.

archived recording 4

Here in the Bay Area, we are still a ways out from restaurants reopening.

archived recording 5

This hits Oakland especially hard. A lot of folks across the country here in California and in Oakland dealing with the new unemployment numbers that came out. Again, just dismal numbers.

archived recording 6

One in five workers without a job in California. Many Bay Area renters are in a similar position.

abel oleson

I kind of hope that’s true. I don’t think we’re really planning on staying here for super long.

jack nicas

How long have you guys been here?

abel oleson

Since October. I got this apartment and the job at Hatch at the same day.

jack nicas

In the beginning of May, I ride my bike over to Abel’s apartment. And he lives by the highway, kind of on the edge of west Oakland. And he is in the backyard, fixing up his low rider bike. And we start chatting about how the past few weeks have been.

abel oleson

Have you been talking to any other people at the Hatch recently?

jack nicas

Yeah, I talked to Pancho and —

michael barbaro

And how is Abel doing?

jack nicas

He’s actually doing pretty well.

abel oleson

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, the unemployment check’s pretty great. And some interesting things have come out of that actually, so.

jack nicas

He’s been getting unemployment now for three weeks. And through this combination of state unemployment assistance and this new federal money from the stimulus law, he’s making more than $1,000 a week. And that’s double what he made at the Hatch. And he said it’s more than he’s ever made in his life.

jack nicas

It’s still more than what you have been making.

abel oleson

Yeah.

jack nicas

OK.

abel oleson

Definitely, so.

jack nicas

So what have you done with the money?

abel oleson

So my computer actually died.

jack nicas

OK.

abel oleson

The screen cracked in half, so I bought a new laptop.

jack nicas

Nice, OK.

abel oleson

Yeah.

jack nicas

How much was that, the laptop?

abel oleson

It was like 900 bucks or something like that.

jack nicas

OK, cool. But that will — that’s a necessary expense.

abel oleson

Yeah, not anything crazy. It’s just kind of something that works good.

jack nicas

Sure.

abel oleson

Um —

jack nicas

Paid rent.

abel oleson

Paid rent, yeah. I just paid rent, just all the bills.

jack nicas

And food. So rent, food, bills, and then a new laptop.

abel oleson

Yeah, I mean, that’s about it.

michael barbaro

And so what did he tell you about his life during this period?

jack nicas

I mean, he told me he was surprised that the government worked as intended here. He was very skeptical at the beginning. But now the money was coming in, and he was actually starting to pay off a bit of debt.

jack nicas

And is your girlfriend still not working, or?

abel oleson

She’s still not working. Yeah, so it’s actually been — surprisingly, it’s been pretty good.

jack nicas

Good. Glad to hear that.

abel oleson

It’s nice to — yeah. We’ve never had a day off together. So now we’re getting our fill of that.

jack nicas

That’s good.

abel oleson

Yeah, it’s good, man.

jack nicas

Good, good, good, good. Do you feel like, at a certain point, do you try to look for a job, or are you just going to try to ride it out, or?

abel oleson

I mean, I’m going to just ride it out for now.

jack nicas

Especially given the fact that you’re getting the money, right?

abel oleson

Yeah, the extra money goes through July.

jack nicas

Yeah.

michael barbaro

So for Abel, the safety net is very much working.

jack nicas

It is working as intended. And Abel now has the luxury of being able to stay at home. And he’s concerned about the virus so he’s not super motivated to get back to work.

jack nicas

So I’m walking through downtown Oakland and heading over to the Hatch right now. It’s the first time I’ve actually been here.

jack nicas

So I go to see Pancho at the Hatch. And at this point, business really has not picked up. He’s making roughly 5 percent of what he made before the pandemic. He’s burned through roughly $20,000 in emergency funds he had set aside and another $20,000 of his own personal money. And he has new problems. A few days earlier, someone had broken into the window above the door, climbed in and robbed the Hatch.

louwenda kachingwe

Yeah, so they came in — laptops, cameras, napkins. Yeah, liquor.

michael barbaro

This guy cannot catch a break.

jack nicas

He really couldn’t.

jack nicas

So how much total shit did they steal?

louwenda kachingwe

That we have currently that we can keep track of, about maybe $13,000.

jack nicas

OK.

jack nicas

Although it turned out that despite the entire mess with the loan process, he ended up getting one of these PPP loans from the government.

louwenda kachingwe

Yeah.

jack nicas

So what happened with that?

louwenda kachingwe

We got the money.

jack nicas

OK, that’s good.

louwenda kachingwe

And it’s a nightmare.

jack nicas

OK.

interposing voices

[LAUGHTER]

jack nicas

But he said it turned out to be a nightmare itself. And it was putting him in a bind.

louwenda kachingwe

$72,500. Something like that, yeah.

jack nicas

Why is it a nightmare?

louwenda kachingwe

It is a nightmare because basically, I now have — what am I? Seven weeks left, something like that.

jack nicas

So these small business loans, they come with specific rules. And specifically, Pancho has to spend 75 percent of the money on payroll within several weeks. Problem was, he was running a takeout joint now. He didn’t need 75 percent of his staff. Take Maria. Pancho doesn’t have the need for a cleaner like he did before the pandemic. And even if he was able to bring Maria back, she’s undocumented, so her wages wouldn’t count against the payroll money he has to spend.

michael barbaro

Right.

jack nicas

And then there are people like Abel. He’s making more money on unemployment than he did at the Hatch, so he has no incentive to come in and get a paycheck.

louwenda kachingwe

I called like this guy that used to work here before. And I was just like, listen. I was like, what are you doing right now? Right, I was like, you should come, just do some things, clock in, a couple things like that. I’m going to pay you really well because I gotta move this money anyway. And he’s like, yeah, well, the thing is, I’m making $4,000 a month right now on unemployment.

jack nicas

Oh my god.

louwenda kachingwe

And he’s like, so, eh. [LAUGHS] He was like, I don’t really want to come to work. So I can’t even get anybody to take this money. So then I’m talking to the accountant, and he’s like, you’re in the same boat as a lot of other people, right?

michael barbaro

So suddenly he’s sitting on top of all this money, and he can’t use it the way he probably most needs to, which is to pay the rent.

jack nicas

Exactly, and this was a common criticism of PPP from small business owners. You had to use this money towards bringing people back to work, and fast. But in reality, you don’t need this many employees to come back to work when your business is so slow. And on top of that, many of your employees would prefer to stay home and continue to collect unemployment. But as I was talking to Pancho about this in the bar, I get an alert on my phone.

jack nicas

You guys saw San Francisco just put out dates right now.

louwenda kachingwe

They’ve got dates?

jack nicas

Yeah.

louwenda kachingwe

For what? For phase four and stuff?

jack nicas

Yep, it just came out. They said —

jack nicas

San Francisco was setting some dates for outdoor dining, and eventually, even indoor dining for the first time since the lockdown began.

jack nicas

I’ll tell you right here. So I think it’s June. June 13 is for restaurants, outdoor restaurants. July 13th is like indoor restaurants.

louwenda kachingwe

That’s crazy. Outdoor restaurants is June 15th?

jack nicas

Yeah.

jack nicas

And it hits Pancho that Oakland probably will follow suit soon.

michael barbaro

Right.

jack nicas

And if so, that means he just has to survive maybe just a few more months before he can get back to normal.

[music]jack nicas

So that’s encouraging.

Good.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

archived recording 1

Good morning, everyone. It is Wednesday, July 15.

archived recording 2

A neighborhood in Oakland is fighting over a wild peacock. [PEACOCK CRY]

archived recording 3

The Bay Area is taking another big step into reopening today. That means outdoor dining gets the green light to reopen officially.

archived recording 4

Restaurants say reopening outdoor dining is a relief.

archived recording 5

This has been kind of a confusing process for a lot of people involved, Christian.

archived recording 6

Yeah, very confusing process for a lot of people. And a lot of businesses following this very closely. As you said —

michael barbaro

So Jack, by the summer, bars and restaurants were allowed to open for outside dining in Oakland, just as in San Francisco. So what did that look like for the Hatch?

jack nicas

So on July 28, the Hatch did reopen for outdoor dining. So they set up a few tables out on the sidewalk. And they built a little takeout window into the kitchen. And they were starting this new model and hoping that it worked.

michael barbaro

And what did that new model mean for the three people you have been following?

jack nicas

So for Maria, she probably was most eagerly awaiting the Hatch to reopen of any of the people I had been following. But one day, when I called her cell phone, her husband picked up, and he was sounding panicked and actually told me that he was wheeling her to the emergency room because her back pain had gotten so bad.

michael barbaro

Wow.

jack nicas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

translator

[SPEAKING SPANISH] Hola Maria, como estas?

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

When I called back a few days later, I found out some terrible news.

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

That Maria had been diagnosed with cancer in her hip.

michael barbaro

Hm. So all that pain she had been experiencing was probably from that, from the cancer.

jack nicas

Right, and now she essentially couldn’t walk.

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

Fortunately, she does have some health insurance through a county program that provides health insurance to undocumented immigrants for a small fee. She is getting some treatment, but it is still in the early stages. And it’s not exactly clear how everything will turn out. But of course, she’s in no shape to get back to cleaning the Hatch.

translator

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

jack nicas

So before, Maria really hadn’t wanted to apply for this $500 benefit that California made available to undocumented residents. But now, her situation had grown so desperate that she was willing to take the risk and try to get that money.

jack nicas

So had she actually gotten through to the line to figure that out?

translator

She didn’t. She called 90 times, 90, 9-0.

jack nicas

90, wow.

translator

Yeah, 90 something times. And they never got through that so far. And they just can’t get it through.

jack nicas

Pancho, however, did need a cleaner, and so he decided to give her husband some hours. The only problem with that was Maria joked that her husband wasn’t a great cleaner, and Pancho confirmed that.

michael barbaro

But it sounds like the decision to hire her husband wasn’t really about whether or not he was a great cleaner. It was about keeping the family financially, I guess, on their feet.

jack nicas

Right, he was trying to help Maria and her family in this moment.

jack nicas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

translator

[SPEAKING SPANISH] Muchas gracias, Maria —

maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

interposing voices

[SPEAKING SPANISH] Gracias, adios.

michael barbaro

And what about Abel?

abel oleson

Hi, how’s it going, bud?

jack nicas

Hey, man, how are you?

jack nicas

So I called him up, and he told me he was back at work.

jack nicas

So first day, when the staff all came back together, what was the mood like?

abel oleson

Oh, man, I think we were just really happy to see each other after, I don’t know, four months or whatever. Had a run of shots and then put our masks back on and got back to work. It was positive. I think we all really liked working there.

jack nicas

But the bad news was that, like Maria, health crisis had also emerged in Abel’s life.

abel oleson

So Mom is diagnosed with cancer. And so she’s going through chemo right now.

jack nicas

Oh, Jesus.

abel oleson

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So —

jack nicas

What kind of cancer?

abel oleson

Colon cancer. It’s definitely survivable, but there’s definitely a reality that my mom could die from this. So, um, it’s funny about this that it’s like, you —

I don’t know how to put it. It’s like, life still goes on in the pandemic. It’s like, you kind of expect because there’s this thing going on, it’s like that nothing else kind of like will fall apart, too. And you’re like, well — oh shit, well this too, right?

jack nicas

His mother lives in another state, so he was concerned about his ability to go visit her by going back to work. But he was also at the same time grateful to have his job at the Hatch as a distraction from everything that was going on.

michael barbaro

And what about the unemployment benefits that Abel had, which seemed like they were more than he was making at the Hatch? Did that affect his decision?

jack nicas

It did. The extra federal benefits that were showing up in his unemployment checks were set to expire at the end of July. So Abel felt he had to get back to work in order to pay rent.

jack nicas

What are you making in a shift right now?

abel oleson

I think it’s like 100 bucks, basically, a shift before taxes. So it comes out to 80 something. And then tips can vary dramatically, but it’s probably $30 or less.

jack nicas

He only had a few shifts a week now. And before the pandemic, he was making roughly $500 a week. And now it was a bit over $200 a week.

michael barbaro

Wow.

abel oleson

All I can kind of do right now is just try to stay positive as much as I can.

[music]

Yeah, man. Well, good luck with —

jack nicas

Thank you.

abel oleson

— the rest of the podcast then. And yeah, if you need to know anything else —

jack nicas

I’ll keep you in the loop. Thank you.

abel oleson

— feel free to give me a call.

jack nicas

Yep, thanks man.

abel oleson

Bye-bye.

jack nicas

All right, appreciate it.

video call ringing

Hey, Pancho.

jack nicas

Hey, Pancho.

louwenda kachingwe

Jack.

jack nicas

Hey.

louwenda kachingwe

There you are.

jack nicas

How are you?

louwenda kachingwe

Uh, pretty good.

jack nicas

Good.

louwenda kachingwe

Just hanging out at home.

jack nicas

So I got in touch with Pancho a few days after the reopening.

louwenda kachingwe

Yeah, it was good seeing them, especially after months. So there’s the part where I’m just like, yes, I’m glad everybody’s here. But I did have this moment when all the staff came in, and I was like, I wonder if this is just a fool’s errand. [LAUGHS] You know? And I was like, I wonder if this is what we’re doing here, right? I was like, and maybe all we’re having is this moment where we’re like, we get to see each other. And we get, like, two more months of this before everything completely implodes. You know?

jack nicas

So now it seems everything’s falling into place. And yet, Pancho has a lot of doubts about everything. First of all, he’s worried that there’s going to be a second wave and a second shutdown. And then, he’s also really worried because Oakland was changing rapidly in front of his eyes. I mean, the unemployment was high in the city. And he was just seeing, on a weekly basis, his friends and his customers leaving the Bay Area. And then he was worried that the people who were left behind in Oakland wouldn’t be enough to make his business survive.

[music]louwenda kachingwe

For me personally, the best way to describe it is, I was in the Hatch. My friend just stopped by. And she was like, you look old. [LAUGHS] She was like, you look so old.

I was like, yeah. I was like, I feel old. [LAUGHS} I was like, yep. I was like, that is a correct assessment of that. And she was like, yeah, usually you’re just like so super cheery all the time. And I was like, it’s kind of hard to be cheery because there’s like everywhere you look, there’s some sort of fire. And there’s just like so many unknowns. I’m like, it’s just hard to predict. And it’s like, you’re constantly second guessing if you’re making the right decision in any given moment. It’s almost like a war of attrition where you try to see who can hold on the longest, right, and get to the other side. And then you’re like, am I doing a good enough job with that? It’s like, and am I even the right person to be doing that? Being in this situation, you feel helpless, right? Where I was like, man, I’m really good at this, but I’m only so good.

michael barbaro

So Jack, it has now been six months since you started following Pancho and the staff of the Hatch. Ultimately, what did this experience tell you about what it takes to keep a small business alive right now?

jack nicas

I think what it takes is a true reopening of the economy. And I think it’s pretty clear at this point that that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. And so that means that a place like the Hatch is left teetering on the edge. And that also means that people who rely on the Hatch to survive, its employees are also teetering. And these are people who were already on the edge. These are people who can’t work from home. These are hourly workers who don’t have many, if any, savings. And so it’s going to remain an important question of what happens to these people over the next months and even years. And I think it’s important to remember that this is the story of my neighborhood bar, but it’s also the story of your neighborhood bar. This is the story of everyone’s favorite bar or restaurant. And remember that before the pandemic, the Hatch was successful. I mean, this was a place that was pretty full just about every night of the week. And now, Pancho is scraping to survive for the sake of the Hatch and for the sake of his employees. And yet, he’s finding that there’s really only so much he can do.

[music]michael barbaro

Jack, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

jack nicas

Thank you.

jack nicas

So I’m walking down 15th Street. It is Labor Day weekend in Oakland. And we’re just coming up to the Hatch.

How are you doing?

louwenda kachingwe

I have learned to have no expectations in 2020. Like could you predict there’s going to be wildfires? I mean, we had to shut down again yesterday. Was it two days ago?

jack nicas

Why?

louwenda kachingwe

Because of the smoke, the air quality. Yeah, it was in the red. So any time it hits orange, we just end up just shutting down.

jack nicas

So that means like you’ve now got a business that is required to be outside, and you can’t be outside essentially.

louwenda kachingwe

Yep, pretty much. [LAUGHS]

jack nicas

That’s the reality of California. You can’t be inside because of a deadly virus, and you can’t be outside because of deadly smoke —

louwenda kachingwe

Yeah.

jack nicas

— harmful smoke. [PHONE RINGING]

pancho

Hello?

jack

Hey, Pancho, it’s Jack.

pancho

Hey, Jack, how’s it going?

jack

Good, how are you?

pancho

Oh, just in the office, just doing some work, you know. Catching up.

jack

Nice. Are you in the office at the Hatch?

pancho

Yeah, just hanging out here.

michael barbaro

Following a major spike in infections and hospitalizations, much of California— including Oakland— has gone into a second lock down. A few days ago, Jack called Pancho back to see how both he and the hatch are doing.

pancho

Uh, you know, it’s the second shutdown, and obviously, the holiday season is just, uh— you know. It’s a lot, for sure. I just kinda gave myself 72 hours of a pity party, and then I was like, OK, you’ve got to get back to work. (LAUGHS)

jack

Right.

pancho

Just got to get back to work. So I just got back on my phone, started calling up distributors that I know, to see like, what kind of, like, deals they possibly have. Called up a bunch of other lenders that I know, just to see what’s going on. And because nobody knows how this new stimulus package is going to look like when it rolls out. Like, I’ll get ready to receive money before I’m going to be able to get more money, that’s already going to somebody else.

jack

Right.

pancho

You know? Or is there even anybody else, you know, to— (LAUGHS)

jack

Right.

pancho

Is there even anybody left out there for [INAUDIBLE]. So I’ve just been calling around, and obviously talking to the landlord, and working stuff out with him. You know, like, he called and he’s like, hey, can I get rent? And I was like, [INAUDIBLE] You know you can’t get rent. And he’s just sort of laughing. And he’s like, but, guy! I don’t know, I just— I thought I’d try. (LAUGHS) Like, come on, man. Yeah. So, yeah, you know, hopefully, like, that relationship is strong enough to last. As to how longer this goes to, hopefully, like, you know, he sticks it out with us, and just gives us a bit of a break while things re-calibrate, you know?

jack

So, and just to clarify, I mean, how are you making ends meet right now? Is it basically taking on debt?

pancho

Oh, yeah, we’re just taking on debt right now. It’s like, at the beginning of the year, we were gushing blood, and we were like, OK, great, you know like— these stick-to Band-aids are working, I think we’re beginning to heal. And then we pull back the Band-Aid and the stitches, and I was like, OK, we’re back here again. (LAUGHS) So I was like, we are back here again.

jack

Oh, man. What have you seen among a lot of your peers in Oakland? Because obviously, we’ve been talking to you in the hatch as sort of an example, an illustration of the larger industry. What’s happening across Oakland in the restaurant and bar industry?

pancho

Oh, it is, um, brutal. That would be the— like, the kindest word I could possibly use. It’s just, uh— it’s bad. You know? Like, there’s like— well, I was in San Francisco the other day, just kind of walking around, I couldn’t believe what— it was like a Wednesday? —and it was just a ghost town. And I was like, I can’t believe I’m downtown San Francisco. It’s like— like a ghost town! It was like, um— you know? And there’s a bunch of restaurants that were so prominent, and they’re not working. They can’t work, you know? They’re shut down, and who knows if they’ll ever open up, you know? So it’s just not really feasible for any restaurants to survive. Unless you have strong enough— I believe the ones that have strong relationships with their landlords, and the landlords are either— outright own their property, and are willing to work with some sort of deal with their tenants— that’s the only way it’ll survive.

jack

Yeah.

pancho

I mean, it’s brutal. It’s brutal out there.

jack

I mean, how much— you’ve kind of touched on this, but I just really want to get your direct answer on this. I mean, how much longer do you think the Hatch can survive?

pancho

So I would say we would probably be able to last maybe a month? Two months? Maybe. And that’s, like— that’s like an extremely optimistic viewpoint. (LAUGHS) If I’m extremely optimistic, two months. But, you know, who knows? Who really knows what’ll happen. But hopefully all the things that we’re planning, we can actually get to enjoy them next year, and look back on this and just say, man, we survived the craziest year ever in this industry. And— and laugh about it

[music]jack

All right. Thank you, my friend, I appreciate it.

pancho

All right, thank you.

jack

All right, stay safe. Be well. Bye-bye.

michael barbaro

The Hatch’s bartender, Abel, had been working there until the most recent shutdown. He still hopes to return if the bar reopens. Maria, who cleaned the Hatch, has been undergoing chemotherapy, and has not been working. But she says that her health has been slowly improving.

California said it will lift its lock-down when its hospitals have more than 15% capacity in their intensive care units.

Today’s episode was produced by Daniel Guillemette and Luke Vander Ploeg. With help from Michael Simon Johnson and Alexandra Leigh Young. It was edited by Lisa Chow and Lisa Tobin, and engineered by Chris Wood. That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.



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