Why do we have government shutdowns?
As two Fresno restaurants struggle to make ends meet during the government shutdown, others are unaffected, and some are giving away free food to federal workers.
The effects of the shutdown on Fresno restaurants are hit-and-miss, though there’s no question that furloughed government workers or ones working without pay are hurting. Friday is the shutdown’s 28th day.
If you’re a federal worker affected by the shutdown, here’s where you can get free food at Valley restaurants. Just show your federal ID.
▪ Romano’s Macaroni Grill is giving away a free mom’s ricotta meatballs and spaghetti between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to affected employees. The offer expires Wednesday, Jan. 23, or when the shutdown ends.
▪ Main Squeeze Market at Lindcove Ranch at 23114 Carson Ave. in Exeter, is giving away a free coffee drink, lemonade or frozen lemonade to any furloughed worker.
In downtown Fresno, at least two restaurants are focused on surviving.
A Subway sandwich shop and Mediterranean restaurant Gus Kabob are on the ground floor of the United Security Bank building at M and Kern streets. Somewhere in the 10 floors above them are four floors of IRS workers who handle customer service and often come down to buy breakfast, lunch or dinner. But not lately.
Other downtown restaurants aren’t feeling the same burn. A block away at Charburger, business is about the same as it was last year at this time, said the owner. The head of the Downtown Fresno Partnership said his staff is hearing that other downtown restaurants have been busy since workers returned from their holiday break.
But when your restaurant is literally in the same building as hundreds upon hundreds of IRS workers, things are different. At first, the IRS workers weren’t working when the government shutdown started.
When it’s at capacity, the IRS offices in that building hold 1,300 workers, said Jason Sisk, president of the chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents the workers in that building.
Then, many were called in to work without pay between Wednesday and Friday. They’ve already missed one paycheck and will soon miss another, he said.
Dining out is not on their minds.
“They’re having to get gas money together to come to work. A few on Facebook (said) their car insurance got canceled yesterday and now they’re ordered to work,” Sisk said. “This is a huge impact to our local economy.”
Business at the Subway has dropped about 45 percent, said owner Kamal Brah.
“It’s not only that we are affected, our employees are affected,” he said. “It’s a chain reaction.”
The IRS shifts start early in the morning, with other shifts ending late at night, so this Subway was open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays. All of the shop’s breakfast business came from the IRS workers, Brah said.
In recent days the shop has been closing four hours early, at 5 p.m., because of the slowdown. Brah moved one employee who normally works evenings to the lunchtime shift. But other evening Subway employees can’t work an earlier shift because of child care or other responsibilities, he said.
One told him she was looking for another job.
The shutdown is especially frustrating for Gustavo Pineda, owner of Gus Kabob, which faces Kern Street in the same building.
The restaurant used to close earlier in the day, but about seven or eight months ago it started staying open until 8 p.m. IRS workers on the later shifts had requested it, wanting the restaurant’s spicy chicken and other dishes during their dinner break, he said.
Now, they’re not spending and Pineda estimates business is down 30 or 40 percent.
“They don’t have money. Some people say, ‘Man, I don’t even have money for a sandwich,’” Pineda said. “There’s no money. They’re working today without checks.”
Pineda had a second job he worked in the evenings, but he quit to keep Gus Kabob open late. For now, he’s still open regular hours, though he said he is losing money.
“Right now, they’re killing us,” he said of the shutdown.