In the wake of both crises, first the repression after the April 2018 civic rebellion, and now the public health crisis, Nicaraguan entrepreneurs cope with the Covid-19 pandemic through home delivery and take-out service.
By Keyling T. Romero (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Karen Zeledon has had to reinvent her business twice before. The first time was in 2018, when the upsurge of civic protests forced her to close. The second was a few weeks ago, when the arrival of Covid-19 was confirmed in Nicaragua.
It’s been difficult, she admits. She had recently managed to reinstall her business in a larger locale in a better area, and now she has to limit her services to home delivery and takeout in order to avoid spreading the pandemic.
“Last week, I made up my mind to close. My husband was the one to say: “Let’s calm down and see how things play out,” says the co-owner of Chocoplo, a shop that sells chocolate-covered bananas and fruit.
Her worries aren’t unique. Many small businesses are also suffering, since commerce has dropped significantly due to the self-quarantine that many Nicaraguans have initiated. Karen and the proprietors of Ajua and Antoja2, two other businesses, tell us of their fears and experiences during this crisis heralded by the arrival of Covid-19 in Nicaragua.
Ajua: Our lives and health are the most important thing
Seven years ago, Carlos Jose and his wife Rosangela opened a burrito business in a small plaza in Jinotepe. At that time, no one was familiar with their product, and those who came near didn’t dare to enter because they didn’t understand what kind of food they were selling.
“People didn’t know that what we were making were burritos. They would see our double boiler pots used to cook them on display, and they didn’t know what kind of food was going to come out of it. Some thought that it would be our traditional dishes, because they saw rice and beans,” Carlos Jose tells us.
Over the years, they managed to earn the loyalty and appreciation of their clients. This made them grow and helped them survive the socio-political crisis that exploded in April 2018, setting off an economic recession that still continues. However, they now face a new challenge due to the pandemic.
“Our strong point is the food served in our restaurants. We have a delivery service, but it’s not as busy as the restaurant service. If we remove from our business equation the people who visited us every day, that amounts to a very significant percentage. Obviously, we’re being affected, but we feel that human life comes first,” Carlos declares.
Due to the pandemic, they had to close their site located in the food court of the Galerias Santo Domingo mall in Managua, and they also modified the way business was conducted in their other two establishments: one located at the entrance to Las Colinas in Managua, and the other, also in Managua, at the Plaza Espana. Both sites now offer only delivery or takeout options. These were measures that he and his wife assumed of their own volition, because officially the Nicaraguan government hasn’t ordered any kind of quarantine, nor has the country closed its borders.
“This is a coin toss. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We’re worried, like everyone, but we know that this is something that’s affecting the whole world. I’m not going to say that we feel better for that, but we do understand that it’s easier for people to be more flexible, with paying rent, for example,” he says.
For now, Ajua continues functioning through home delivery, using the app called “Hugo”. Their locales are open only for takeout, and they affirm that they’re following all the recommendations to avoid contagion, such as the use of gel alcohol, gloves and masks. In their social media feeds, especially on Twitter, they share more information about their products and the decisions they’re making.
Antoja2: It’s a challenge three times greater than the last one.”
Noel Roiz, 34, began his business selling Sangrias and homemade Margaritas a year after the 2018 crisis. That was his first challenge. Now, he admits that he’s facing an even greater challenge because, unlike the former, he feels that after it’s all over the Nicaraguan small businesses will be struggling alone, trying to survive.
“My concern is the time that this crisis is going to stretch out. We already demonstrated once that we could launch our business in muddy waters and could develop our initiative starting from zero. Now our problem is time and our debts, because you can’t raise the capital to start anew. And when all of this has passed, every country is going to be looking out for their own regeneration, while being such a poor country, we’re going to be left in the background,” he admits.
Months before Covid-19 began to extend around the world, Roiz had managed to broaden his business. In addition to selling Sangrias and Margaritas, he had initiated the sale of food and grilled meat. It was going well for him, but a short while ago he had to close this in order to stick with just online sales of liquor.
“In my case, I had to lay off those who were working with me, and I was left with only one employee who was doing the deliveries. Every time he leaves, he puts on a new pair of gloves, wears a mask, and we go around with a spray bottle of alcohol to disinfect the bottles. Yes, it’s hard, because that increases our production costs, but we have to be responsible with our worker’s safety and that of our final client,” Roiz explains.
If you’d like to support this business, you can visit his Instagram and Facebook accounts listed as Antoja2 to find out about their products. You can also purchase their Sangrias and Margaritas in the Porras Supermarket in Managua.
Chocoplo: “It’s hard, because no one knows when it will end.”
When Karen Zeledon opened her business in November 2015, she never imagined that it was going to become as well-known as it is now. She recalls that the first locale where she set up her chocolate-covered bananas and sweetened fruits was a locale near the Nicaraguan Engineering University shared by several small businesses. That’s where her story began.
“It went super well for us. Then later, we began to expand in that same place, until in 2018 when we had to close. That was the first of the tough tests that we’ve had,” she states.
During this time, she decided to work with large orders. She herself made them at home and later had them delivered. When the situation in the country stabilized, she obtained a small location in the Altamira location of Managua, and in January of this year reinstalled her business at a site along the Masaya highway in Managua, and opened a branch in the Linda Vista neighborhood.
“We’ve been affected, because this is a food business and people are afraid to go out on the street. But really, since before the first case was detected, we were already taking precautions. The most worrisome thing is that we don’t know when it will be safe to go out on the street again, when we’ll be able to work normally. I hope that in two months this has been part of a process that we had to go through and now it’s behind us, but we really don’t know,” Zeledon expresses.
Given this new crisis that the business faces, they’ve decided to work only via their own delivery service or that arranged through the apps called Hugo and Jumpers. They’re also offering takeout service at their locales. In both places, they’re taking preventive measures to avoid spreading Covid-19, and they’ve reduced their hours. Currently, they’re open from 9:30 am to 5 pm. If you’re interested, you can follow them on social media.