Sam Abbas started to notice a difference in February. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to expand its reach across the world, several weeks before the state of Michigan began to shut down non-essential businesses in March, the restaurateur says he noticed a slight dip in business.
Still, work continued while the threat loomed in the distance, right up to the edge.
"You have to be able to evolve fairly rapidly to weather whatever surprise comes at you," Abbas says.
"As updates come, you have to adapt."
Abbas is also a member of the Dearborn Chamber of Commerce and the city’s Downtown Development Authority. He is one of the innumerable business owners across the world whose livelihoods have been threatened by the coronavirus outbreak.
Abbas owns Brome Modern Eatery in Dearborn and Detroit. While the Detroit location closed early in the timeline of the outbreak, Abbas kept the Dearborn location open up until Saturday, March 28, running carry-out and delivery services only--and with everything offered at 50 percent normal prices, too.
He says that the decision to close ultimately came down to public health concerns.
"We wanted to stay open and the business was sustainable but we needed to do what was most responsible, which is to close," Abbas said via text, updating an interview held the previous week.
"We plan to open as soon as we see we are over the peak."
That decision, no doubt a difficult one, came on the heels of another blow to Abbas’s restaurant business. Construction was well underway at The Great Commoner, a much-anticipated brunch spot that is to open in the Wagner Hotel development, Ford Motor Company’s mixed-use redevelopment of the historic Michigan Avenue hotel and its surrounding block.
And then a March 23 executive order from the governor banning all non-essential work brought construction to a screeching halt.
Still, for all the hits he’s taken, just like others around him, Abbas insists that you have to take these things in stride. He remains optimistic.
"I think the majority will bounce back. The Dearborn community is resilient. The local economy weathered the 2008 recession better than some others. That’s because of the cash economy here, the mom-and-pop establishments with lower overheads," Abbas says.
"A business owner can get in there and work the shifts if they have to, whatever’s needed to make ends meet."
Abbas plans to re-open Brome as the peak of the outbreak crashes. There are about six weeks left of construction for The Great Commoner, and work will resume whenever it’s allowed.
It’s not only his small business owner-attitude that keeps Abbas bullish on the future. He recognizes the way his neighbors and the community at large have banded together, the way people are donating time and supplies and money.
"Right now, everyone is coming together, helping each other out with delivering medical supplies and food; lunches for schoolchildren, the elderly, and those in need, this despite it being a tough time for everybody," Abbas says.
"I’ve never seen a community come together in so many ways and that’s what I’m seeing right now."
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