MANILA -- For Waya Araos-Wijangco, permanently closing the Roces Avenue branch of Gourmet Gypsy felt like losing a loved one to the novel coronavirus.
The chef and restaurateur recently took to Facebook to announce the closure, citing the "uncertain economy" caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"My heart remembers how lovingly and painstakingly we built Gourmet Gypsy to what it is today. How this was where I felt I became a chef. I sought to create a restaurant that served delicious and interesting food in a welcoming, democratic setting. People come in as they are, dressed up or down did not matter," she wrote.
"Not to disrespect anyone who lost a loved one, but losing Gourmet Gypsy Roces feels to me like a death of a loved one by COVID. No goodbyes, no last walwalan. Just a diagnosis and a sentence. Then it was called," she added.
The Roces branch of Gourmet Gypsy, which operated for five years, gained a following even among celebrities for serving healthy but satisfying dishes inspired by Araos-Wijangco's travels.
A second Gourmet Gypsy restaurant opened in the popular food strip Maginhawa, also in Quezon City, in late 2019.
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, Araos-Wijangco had to choose which of the two Gourmet Gypsy branches to keep, and it ended up being the newer Maginhawa restaurant.
"The logical choice to save was the Maginhawa branch since Open Hand School is housed there, too... However, my mind rebels with why logical and sound is not necessarily moral and humane. I grieve for all the staff who came and grew with us, became our family," she wrote.
In an online interview with ABS-CBN News, Araos-Wijangco recalled the process of making the difficult decision to cease operations at Roces Ave. at the start of the enhanced community quarantine.
"We came to the decision to close the Roces branch after consulting with our lawyer and accountant. We had assured our staff that we will pay them their salaries throughout the quarantine period, then announced to last until April 14. Once we knew that the quarantine period would be extended and that the landscape of the restaurant business would be seriously altered, we had to act quickly," she explained.
"Our biggest consideration for closing early was to have enough liquidity to be able to provide for employees that we will have to redundate," she added. "We wanted to make sure that we could afford to compensate them. Every day that we waited put pressure on our cash position."
With the Roces branch closed, Araos-Wijangco and her team operate from the Maginhawa branch, providing meals for frontliners and giving relief packages to communities.
At the same time, she makes sure that her staff members remain safe from the virus as they continue to refine their hygiene and sanitation practices.
When asked to give a message to her fellow chefs and restaurateurs, Araos-Wijangco replied: "The whole restaurant industry is in shambles at the moment. We will need to reformat and reboot how we do things. This crisis has also shown how much wrong there is in the industry – how little resilience we have, how we have been surviving on razor-thin margins at the expense of labor."
"We need to find a way to make sure everyone in the industry – from restaurant owners to the lowliest dishwasher – will be able to make a decent living, have job security and benefits that will allow them to weather storms like this."