Brandy Wahlstrom, owner-operator of That Chicken Place on Hewitt Avenue in Everett, takes an order Saturday. All restaurants and bars in the state were ordered to close Tuesday. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Brandy Wahlstrom, owner-operator of That Chicken Place on Hewitt Avenue in Everett, takes an order Saturday. All restaurants and bars in the state were ordered to close Tuesday. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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Closures put restaurant owners in a fight for their lives

Mandatory shutterings to help slow the spread of COVID-19 may put many eateries out of business for good.

Brandy Wahlstrom is fighting for her restaurant’s life.

The novel coronavirus outbreak is rapidly becoming a calamity for Wahlstrom, owner of That Chicken Place in Everett, and others who work in Snohomish County restaurants.

Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered all bars and restaurants to close through March 31 to slow the pandemic’s spread. While restaurants may continue takeout and delivery service, no one is allowed to dine in.

Wahlstrom, of Marysville, said it’s too early to tell whether her business will survive.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” she said. “Right now, I’m just brokenhearted. Hopefully, we can ride it out.”

Brandy Wahlstrom, owner-operator of That Chicken Place, and her son, Zach Maychrak, work Saturday afternoon. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Brandy Wahlstrom, owner-operator of That Chicken Place, and her son, Zach Maychrak, work Saturday afternoon. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Inslee ordered restaurants to close Monday, but That Chicken Place already was reeling from the governor’s March 11 ban on gatherings of 250 or more people (now 50). That order shut down Angel of the Winds Arena across the street from Wahlstrom’s restaurant. About 40% of her business stems from events at the 10,000-seat venue. On March 11, only two customers dined at That Chicken Place, for just $18 in sales.

Since then, Wahlstrom has laid off her entire staff of seven. Her business is hemorrhaging money.

“How much do you lose?” she said. “When do you decide to stop losing? How far into debt do you go?”

Restaurateurs say the recent minimum wage increase to $13.50 had hurt their bottom lines. The coronavirus pandemic has made things much worse.

“We don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Rachid Ayouni, owner of Eight Ball Cafe in Everett. “As the virus spreads, it’s the right thing to do. But conversely, what are we doing to save small businesses and slow the spread of them going underwater? That’s another disease we have to worry about.”

Ayouni, of Lake Stevens, said a skeleton crew can handle Eight Ball Cafe’s brick-fired pizza takeout and delivery orders, while the rest are on leave. About 10% of Eight Ball Cafe’s sales come from delivery.

Though he expects delivery sales to increase, Ayouni is unsure if it will be enough to keep his restaurant afloat.

“We don’t know how delivery is going to work out,” he said. “Many of us won’t be able to fulfill our financial obligations, vis-a-vis our landlords and other commitments, such as insurance. That’s what I’m worried about.”

Scuttlebutt Brewing in Everett has put nearly 100 employees on standby. General Manager Tyler Boylan said Scuttlebutt’s taproom and restaurant will close temporarily if to-go orders in person or online don’t meet expectations.

“There’s not an alternative for us,” he said. “We’re hoping people will get their crowlers (32-ounce to-go containers) and six-packs to go. We’re going to have a limited menu, too.”

Diane Symms, owner of Lombardi’s Italian Restaurants in Everett and Mill Creek, has also put most of her staff on standby. Only managers, sous chefs and the executive chef remain working.

Lombardi’s will offer curbside pick up orders and takeout with a 20% discount on its menu to lure customers. Symms, of Mukilteo, said some small businesses won’t be able to afford the costly delivery fees of services such as DoorDash and UberEats. She plans to roll out an internal delivery system.

Symms, a restaurant owner for 45 years, said she’s weathered several industry-changing events, including 9/11 and the 2008 stock market crash. But the pandemic is the worst she’s seen.

“It’s gotten incrementally worse every day in terms of declining sales,” she said. “It’s going to hurt the small businesses more than the big companies.”

Brandy Wahlstrom, owner-operator of That Chicken Place, fears the mandatory closures mean the end of her business. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Brandy Wahlstrom, owner-operator of That Chicken Place, fears the mandatory closures mean the end of her business. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

That Chicken Place became a quick favorite after opening in January 2019 — and a popular hangout for Everett Silvertips fans. The parents of Silvertips goaltender Dustin Wolf are regulars. Wahlstrom’s daily sales routinely were in the four figures, thanks to the arena traffic.

Then came the pandemic and Inslee’s crowd-size ban. The effect on her business was immediate.

“It wasn’t a decline, but a nosedive,” she said.

Then came the mandatory closure.

Wahlstrom tries to be an optimist, but she’s a realist at heart.

“I think this is going to kill small businesses,” she said. “If it ends, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have a plan B; this is my plan F.”

She’s not going to quit without a fight. Running a restaurant is one of her greatest passions in life, besides being the mother of two.

“Even if it’s a crummy day, it’s my dream, and nobody loves it like I do,” she said. “Nobody is going to be as protective of it as I am. Every other business owner would say something similar.”

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, ethompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

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