S’Mac—short for Sarita’s Mac and Cheese—has been serving fresh and inspired macaroni and cheese to Manhattan’s East Village since 2006. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, however, like so many other restaurants across the country, S’Mac found itself in survival mode.
Pivoting quickly to meet delivery-only regulations for restaurants, S’Mac was also able to help the community by offering gift cards, which many neighbors purchased to provide meals for frontline workers. These acts of care helped take some of the financial pressure off, but owners Sarita and Caesar Ekya still had bills to pay and other obligations to meet.
Small margins are a fact of life for the restaurant industry, and they grew even tighter during the pandemic. In 2022, a Datassential survey of U.S. restaurant operators found that average profit margins declined to 13 percent, compared to 21 percent pre-COVID. Of course, many operators saw margins fall even lower during the early days of the pandemic, and many had to close their doors for good. Of the 778,807 total food establishments in the U.S. operating since the beginning of COVID-19, 79,438 had closed permanently just one year into the pandemic, according to Datassential—about 10 percent of all restaurants in the country.
In the midst of pandemic lockdowns, with little room for error, S’Mac had to face the fact that shutting down was a real possibility. Unpaid rent could jeopardize the business, even as the cost of goods skyrocketed.
Sarita Ekya speaks highly of her long-time go-to lender, Biz2Credit. Biz2Credit provided her business with new equipment to keep up with changing times, make necessary renovations, and cover bills while revenue was low. Biz2Credit also gave Ekya a direct contact to call up at any time. With the added financial support, S’Mac was able to stay open during tough times—and is now celebrating 17 years since it first opened its doors.
“Biz2Credit has been our main lender over the years we have been in business. We have such a history now, through ups and downs, I feel like [Biz2Credit] has always been there for us,” Ekya says. “The restaurant business is super dynamic; things are changing all the time. The pandemic happens, and now you must worry about how to set your restaurant up to be more accessible. You need to be able to have that turnaround time quickly, and Biz2Credit does that for you.”
The Illinois-based Kolachi Grill also faced unforeseeable challenges during the pandemic. Yousaf Razzak and Syed Nizami were new to the restaurant business when they started their company in early 2020. Then COVID-19 struck. In a time when so many restaurants, from small independents to major brands, were forced to close permanently, Razzak and Nizami had to forge a new business and find success.
“When we started our business in 2020, it was just before COVID-19, and we built the business in hard times. We were able to make it happen,” Razzak says.
In the early days, Razzak and Nizami had to pay their restaurant’s rent without any help from dine-in orders, and they struggled to retain employees in the face of the pandemic. But through word of mouth, their good reputation, and local marketing, they were able to build a business presence with good online reviews. Razzak says sales went from about $100 a day to $3000 a day within the first few months.
The business was thriving, and still, the team still needed support for day-to-day expenses like inventory and keeping up with employee demands. They also had a dream of expanding to a second location.
Razzak and Nizami chose Biz2Credit to help with both of these items. Traditional banks were not taking risks on restaurant businesses during COVID-19, Razzak says, and Kolachi Grill had trouble trying to get conventional loans and lines of credit. Biz2Credit, however, understood the value of the business. Razzak says it was also able to deliver a fast turnaround time, a favorable rate, longer terms to pay, and the ability to renew if more funding was necessary.
“If Biz2Credit had not helped us out, we would still be in our first location struggling with employees and price wars,” Razzak says. After about two years of growing the business, a unique opportunity arose to open a second Kolachi Grill at a new location. Razzak attributes the team’s ability to make this play to financing from Biz2Credit.
“When you get an opportunity and you need to seize it, a company like Biz2Credit is the one who will come in and help you do it,” Razzak says.
Both S’Mac and Kolachi Grill are still delighting customers today, still allowing their owners to live out their dreams and feed their local communities. Ekya says S’Mac has seen revenue increase close to pre-pandemic rates, and she’s once again confident in expanding and innovating her award-winning business with a new list of projects. And Kolachi Grill continues to inspire devotion in its customers, as Razzak and Nizami stay laser-focused on serving the food they love.
“People actually hug us when they love our food—it’s so authentic and reminds them of home in Pakistan and India,” Razzak says.
Biz2Credit prides itself on supporting restaurant business owners financially to achieve their goals. “Anyone who starts a small business has a fire in them,” Ekya says. “Once you start, you cannot be stopped.”
There are a wide variety of options when it comes to restaurant business loans and financing. To learn more about Biz2Credit and to understand when a loan might be the right financial move in growing a business, visit the Biz2Credit website.