Better Than Expected: Restaurant Owner Robert Smith on How COVID-19 Affected His Business
2020 has been a difficult year for small businesses. In-person dining was one of the first activities to be shut down, and restaurants quickly had to adapt to only providing takeout, delivery, and some outdoor dining. For Robert Smith, owner of Blessed Tropical Jamaican Cuisine in Inglewood, CA, it was just the latest challenge to overcome in the restaurant's 12-year history.
Blessed Tropical Jamaican Cuisine has withstood years of change in its surrounding environment. The restaurant, which opened on November 8, 2008, at its current location on Prairie Ave., has survived through years of rent raises throughout Inglewood's recent city development with 2020 slated for the opening of the SoFi Stadium and to include luxury housing and a large entertainment complex soon to follow.
Even with the most significant change to the restaurant's operations, the COVID-19 related ban on indoor dining, Blessed Tropical has stayed afloat. According to Smith, part of that has come from his loyal clientele, who make use of their takeout services.
"I think they came out better with this COVID than they did before. And that's something, I appreciate it. I keep telling them they don't have to come here. I appreciate it more than they know," Smith says.
“It makes me feel good when I can help somebody. That's the thing that makes me feel good. It's best for me. I don't worry about all the other stuff.”
Smith has a very altruistic nature, with an instinct to help people. He believes in helping people out, to the point where he'll offer a meal to someone who needs it but may not have the money to pay.
"One thing that I thrive on, if a person comes through and they are hungry, they don't have to worry about being able to pay for it. We will give them food, that's what we would do. We would give them food. That was my motto. If you can help someone, you help them."
Smith also takes pride in taking care of his employees. He'll often help them out when they need it, giving money when they have financial issues and setting up reasonable payment plans. He also planned on having a celebration with them this year before everything changed.
"I appreciate my workers. I love them. And they can tell you that any way that I can help them, I will. It doesn't matter. If they're in need, they need something; if I can do it, I do it," Smith says.
"It makes me feel good when I can help somebody. That's the thing that makes me feel good. It's best for me. I don't worry about all the other stuff," Smith says.
Part of Smith's ability to roll with the punches is his worldview: he takes a very uncomplicated view on life. It's like the principles of life that are posted on a flyer in the restaurant, simple solution-based statements. The first principle: Life is a Challenge…Meet It.
Though the SoFi Stadium shadow looms over the shared street, it hasn't affected Blessed Tropical Jamaican Cuisine's business that much in 2020. However, Smith is expecting more business once the stadium fully opens.
"That's why I keep hanging in there. Sometimes you want to cry, but hey, that's the way life is right now. I'm just hoping that I can expand from where I am today. If I could expand from where I am today, I'd be one of the proudest persons in the world," Smith says.