Memphis restaurant still in pandemic recovery

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While Memphis hit a record high in jobs, the hospitality and recreation industries lag 2%.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Inside Curry N Jerk on Monroe Avenue in downtown Memphis, you’ll find family and spice mixed with Caribbean flavor.

“We used to call it the food of the poor but today everything is expensive,” said restaurant owner Arturo Azcarate.

For him, business is not about money.

Instead, it’s dedicated to his favorite leader, his mother.

“I went back on a childhood promise I made to my mother, who is no longer living, that I would buy her a restaurant,” he said.

Like other restaurants in the city, the pandemic has hit the Jamaican dining establishment hard.

“COVID made me realize that we can scale back and still meet our customer demand,” he explained. “So we’re just having dinner now.”

This week, the Greater Memphis Chamber announced that jobs lost in the pandemic had been recovered and employment numbers were at an all-time high in some industries in the city.

Now the group is working to maintain that number with accelerated certification programs.

At least two will start by the end of this year and will include robotics, computer programming and HVAC programs with companies ready to hire those who complete the courses.

Economic Development Director Ted Townsend said the restaurant industry along with hospitality and leisure lagged 2%.

Azcarate’s business is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic two years later.

The restaurant avoided closing its doors completely, instead closing on Sundays and Mondays.

“On Sundays we were known for our brunch, and it was great, but I couldn’t get enough people to work and I wasn’t burning my staff,” he explained. “I realized that if we went five days in a row, and everyone had the same days off, that I should have enough staff to cover the days that were open.”

Azcarate said dedicated staff are in short supply.

“If I have to invest time teaching you how to cook, I expect you to be here,” he said.

He believes that many people who sign up are not engaged.

“People come in and just want to cash checks and then they leave once they get their paycheck,” he said.

Azcarate asked the federal government for money at the start of the pandemic, which he says didn’t help at all.

“Recently, we may have applied for things and then all of a sudden they say you’re approved, and then the SBA comes back and says we’re out of money,” he said.

Azcarate focuses on protecting the personnel who have accompanied him through difficult times, including two of his sisters.

He shared that what’s holding him back is an old promise.

“I think the willpower and effort to make my mom happy kept me going and that’s why we’re still here,” he said.

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