AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Restaurant Association estimates around 15 percent of restaurants have closed since the pandemic began and before this is all over, they estimate it could be up to 30 percent.
It’s the reality for East Austin's Yuyo Peruvian Restaurant, they had to shut down.
In 2017 they broke barriers as a minority-owned business, becoming Austin’s first and only contemporary Peruvian restaurant.
Despite closing, Yuyo’s former executive chef Maribel Rivero is not letting this pandemic stop her from sharing her food with the world.
These days, Chef Maribel is prepping the grill on the front lawn. It’s not how she pictured her summer of 2020. “Well, I was the executive chef of Yuyo, which is a Peruvian restaurant here in Austin, Texas, I opened it three years ago,” Rivero says.
Now she’s sharing cooking classes via social media on Instagram. “I just started cooking in my kitchen and sharing my recipes,” Rivero says. “So I started doing the recipes at the restaurant and sharing them just for free and online on Instagram.”
On this August day in 2020, she’s cooking up striped bass, with olive oil, garlic, and herbs. It’s all part of a pivot after the restaurant closed in June. Like many businesses, she did apply for government financial help.
“It was a catch 22 but the first initial loan you’re supposed to hire everybody back, but not everyone’s working because there’s not enough work and then some people are wanting to be staying at home because they’re concerned for their health and they rather be on unemployment, Rivero says. “It wasn’t exactly the best situation, it was a band-aid.”
Now, she’s turning a salty situation into something savory. “If you’re thinking long-term, especially for my restaurant, it just would not be viable. It wouldn’t be smart to continue to suffer,” Rivero says.
She’s now created a business out of her online classes.
“I am starting to make some income, I’m happy about that,” Rivero said. “It's not enough yet, but it’s a numbers game with the internet... and yeah I’m just putting myself out there because this is my pivot.”
The means might be a pivot but the focus on her “why” has always been the same. “For me, it’s never been about the business of the restaurant,” Rivero said. “It’s about the food, it’s your love in cooking and I haven’t lost that spark, I know this is my purpose,” Rivero says.
She hopes this pandemic will also serve as a way to unite people in a common language of a love for food. “[I hope it turns into] Hey, just come over it’s like it doesn’t need to be a production!” Rivero says. “We have a very rich culture throughout Latin America and [sharing it], that's just my motivation always.”