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July 11, 2020

Cafe owners remain positive through shelter-in-place

WATSONVILLE—Cafe Ella owners Erika Conrad and Jennifer DeVault say they are hopeful that their business will persevere through the COVID-19 crisis.

The twin sisters, who took over the small cafe on East Lake Avenue from Ella’s at the Airport owner Ella King last year, said that despite ongoing challenges, they are doing what they can to keep serving customers.

“Those who are coming in have been so nice and thankful that we’re open,” DeVault said. “And we’re always glad to see them, too.”

Cafe Ella is one of many cafes and restaurants across Watsonville dealing with countywide shelter-in-place and statewide “stay at home” orders, which were put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As more people stay at home for both work and play, eateries have seen a drastic drop in business.

“Since last Tuesday… things have slowed down significantly,” Conrad said. “We’ve only been getting [about] ten customers per day, and a few DoorDash orders.”

As such, the cafe’s six employees are not working, leaving Conrad and DeVault to work full-time six days per week.

“That is probably the hardest part,” DeVault said. “Two of [our employees] are single moms. They really need the money. It’s sad, but right now we just can’t pay them.”

Currently, Cafe Ella is offering to-go food and drink orders, DoorDash and catering for groups of more than 10. There are still offices across the city where people are working, albeit in smaller and spread-apart groups. DeVault said that those larger orders have helped them stay afloat.

“We are hopeful that this won’t take us down. We don’t think it will,” she said. “There’s lots of government support we’ve been looking into.”

Cafe Ella at 734 East Lake Ave remains open for business six days a week for to go, DoorDash and catering orders. —Johanna Miller/The Pajaronian

DeVault and Conrad have been in contact with other business owners in Watsonville, including King and the owners of Red Apple Cafe on Auto Center Drive. 

“Everyone is kind of in the same boat,” Conrad said. “We are all just playing it by ear.”

Suppliers have also taken a hit. DeVault said that the cafe’s bread and pastry suppliers are cutting back staff, and on a recent trip to a restaurant supply store, they found it gutted of paper goods.

“Even with a seller’s permit, there was just nothing there,” DeVault said.

Despite the challenges, the sisters say they understand the importance of the county and state orders.

“Our mom is a nurse, so we know how serious it is,” Default explained. “These precautions have to be taken. We don’t want the virus spreading. We definitely don’t want a bunch of people in [the cafe]. But it’s nice to have some delivery, some takeout orders to keep us going.”

Conrad added that regular customers have been trying to help, as well.

“One of our regulars… kept adding items to her order, trying to give more support,” she said. “Santa Cruz County loves small business. They understand its importance.”

The sisters say they are eager for things to improve not only for their business but also so they can see their old customers and employees.

“Be safe, stay at home as much as you can,” DeVault said. “But we can’t wait till this is over and we can see everyone again.”

Go here for a full list of cafes, restaurants, breweries and more open during the COVID-19 closures.

Johanna Miller
Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study English and Media. She covers the arts, business and agriculture.

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