• Mary MacCarthy

L.A.-based French restaurant doesn't qualify for U.S. or French aid

Updated: May 6, 2020

Behind every restaurant that's had to shut down or slow down due to Covid-19, there's a story.

Fatiha and Marc with their daughters Melina and Eryne

Today we feature a French couple for whom opening a restaurant in the U.S. represents the fulfillment of their American dream.

Fatiha and Marc Moubarak opened "L'Appart" ("The Apartment") in downtown Los Angeles last August.

Business was just starting to take off when the pandemic hit.

Fatiha told us how she and Marc are trying to keep the restaurant afloat while faced with the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis.

HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? I try to not think too much about the future, that stresses me out!

When we get up we have breakfast, then we look at what our daughters need to do for school. Melina is in third grade and Eryne is in kindergarten. We moved to the U.S. three and a half years ago, so it feels like they have both grown up in the U.S.

I also work for L.A. public schools, as a French Assistant Teacher, so I have to do some Zoom meetings with students.

Marc and I both help the girls with their “homeschool” lessons, but fairly early in the day he has to start making calls and then do the shopping for the restaurant.

Normally he would just go to Jetro, the wholesale grocery store - but these days they have shortages on a lot of products. So now he generally has to go to 3-4 stores to get what he needs.

The stores are all respecting social distancing, which is good, but that also means that there’s a lot of waiting in lines.

Then he goes to the restaurant every evening. It’s just Marc and the chef. They wear masks and gloves of course. Marc doesn’t get a salary and the chef doesn’t qualify for unemployment, so their only choice is to just keep working, to keep earning money even on days when business is very slow.

We're trying everything. Last week Marc launched a fundraising campaign. And we're looking for any investor that could get us through this difficult patch.

We're like a lot of small businesses - we fall through the cracks in terms of getting assistance. We don't qualify for loans from the U.S. government, but we don't qualify for anything from France, either.

Opening a restaurant is so much work to start with - we are used to working very hard and dealing with setbacks.

When we first came to California we opened a restaurant in Santa Monica, but we closed that one because we realized the downtown L.A. market would be a better fit. And the new location was a good move for us. It's in a business zone, and 40% of our orders were catered lunches for offices. But now, of course, all the offices are closed!

Marc and I have put everything we’ve had into L'Appart. We came to the U.S because we really believe in the American dream. My own parents immigrated to France from Morocco, and I have always felt that if they had moved to the U.S. instead, they would have had more success. Yes, it's a really difficult time right now, but overall there is still so much opportunity in America.

So we are determined to get through this. One challenge is that so many clients come to us for the dine-in experience - we really give customers a taste of being in a French restaurant. In order to transition to take-out and delivery, we have to think differently.

Making the best of extra family time!

We created a special take-out/delivery menu with our biggest hits. One of the most popular orders is the BurNaan - which is beef bourguignon served on a cheese naan. Another popular is the classic French beef bourguignon, which we sell as a family size.

As a mother, I like to think, well, when our customers order from us, they’re getting a healthy meal that lets them take a break from cooking. Because the reality is that a lot of us are worn out from preparing every meal for our families these days. As moms we have to be on top of everything - cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the constant schoolwork. Any break from that, even just a meal ordered in, is so nice. And even better if there's enough to put in the fridge and save and have as leftovers the next day, too!

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