A downtown restaurant survived 19 months of construction turning Fulton Mall into Fulton Street, but it still may close soon.
The owner of the 8-year-old Parsley Garden Cafe says that business is slow – slower than when Fulton was open only to people on foot. He’s waiting until the end of the month to decide for sure if the cafe will close.
“If we don’t see any improvement or anything, we’re just going to close down,” said Carlos Partida, who runs the restaurant with wife Blanca and 21-year-old son Alex.
Even if business picks up, he still may close as his bills are rising, his health is an issue and he’s hesitant to sign another multiyear lease.
“We survived the construction for a year and a half and we were hoping things would be better after that,” he said. “We still didn’t see any improvement (in numbers of customers).”
But business isn’t slowing on the rest of the street, said Craig Scharton, interim CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership, an organization that serves Fulton Street and other parts of downtown.
There are more cars, more people and more activity on the street lately and other restaurants are reporting increases in business, he said.
“Downtown is certainly not slower, but that doesn’t mean that an individual business might not experience their own cycles,” Scharton said.
Parsley Garden Cafe – named after a William Saroyan short story – has been a fixture on the street in recent years. It opened before Take 3 burgers across the street and outlived two of its neighbors, Peeve’s Public House and Antojitos Mexican Restaurant.
The restaurant is open 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. It serves $2.95 breakfast sandwiches and platters of pancakes, eggs and bacon, along with burgers, wraps and salads for lunch.
The family and restaurant were featured in a piece by Fresno Bee columnist Marek Warszawski last year about the challenges of surviving the construction.
Earlier this week, Partida posted on the For the Love of Downtown Facebook group asking for support.
Parsley Garden Cafe closed for a few days earlier this week because Partida’s wife and son were sick. The trio are the only three workers at the restaurant, which is their only source of income.
They also face other challenges. His rent went up by $100 last year. They had to start paying for workers’ compensation insurance for their son, which costs about $5,000 a year, Partida said.
Their lease is up at the end of February and he’s not sure he wants to commit to another multiyear lease (the last one was for two years).
About a year ago, the stress started affecting his health.
“All the stress, the construction and the bills, I got a heart attack from the stress,” he said. “Now the stress starts coming back again.”
Partida said he tried a few times to open on evenings and weekends and for Art Hop, but didn’t get many customers. He did some marketing on Facebook and Instagram and even did some videos that a customer made for free. But he says it didn’t really help and he doesn’t have the money to spend on marketing.
Revitalization of a pedestrian mall doesn’t happen overnight, Scharton noted. Of all the cities that restored traffic to their malls, 90 percent were fully revitalized within four years.
Fulton’s revitalization is a little slow when it comes to businesses staying open longer hours, outdoor dining and property owners investing in their buildings on the street, Scharton said.
“As a team we’re all kind of moving more slowly and cautiously. Our role at the Downtown Partnership is to get all those elements to move more quickly,” he said.
The organization is planning events that will bring people to the new street. Scharton is showing buildings on Fulton to potential renters, including four wineries and three bars in the past week or so.
But existing businesses need to do their part too, he said. Since the new customers that drive growth will come mainly on evenings and weekends, businesses need to be open during that time.
“You either jump in – you get your beer and wine license and you make that growth happen … or not,” he said. “You have to adjust your business model to become a nighttime destination, as opposed to just giving it a shot.”