Fresh from a stint in Houston, Texas, French chef Pierre-Yves Le Bihan returned to Trinidad and Tobago with his wife, Zanifa, in 2013.
While he worked in a hotel and French restaurant in the country before, upon his return, he decided to pursue a dream, starting his own restaurant – Zazou Kitchen.
Since then, there have been highs and lows, Pierre-Yves says, but the lows of the last seven months are unlike any other.
Eighty per cent of his business has been lost, he estimated.
“It takes a toll on everybody- a toll on the staff. Of course, you have to think about your staff. Unfortunately, you have to let some people go. As much as I wanted to keep everybody, at some point, you have to make some business decision,” the co-owner of the One Woodbrook Place restaurant said.
With no customers, four members of the front staff – waiters and bar staff – were let go.
As loyal workers who helped build the restaurant up from the ground, however, they were assured that they would get back their jobs when things pick up.
However, that wait has been longer than they all expected.
Last Saturday, Le Bihan expected Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to start easing up restrictions in the industry.
“Let’s hope for next week Saturday because we can’t carry on like that forever. It’s going to be a catastrophe for the food and beverage industry,” he says.
“It’s sad to see all the hard work you’ve been putting in for the last ten years gradually going down the drain, but I know it’s nobody to blame…I blame the virus,” Zazou’s Head Chef added.
Beginning his career with the restaurant more than seven years ago, sous chef Zakris Cooper saw Zazou grew from a small establishment in Coblentz Gardens into one of the country’s most renown in-house dining experiences at One Woodbrook Place.
However, many of the people who shared that journey are no longer working with him.
And, it’s something that hurts him deeply, he said.
But, unfortunately, the chef adds, Zazou’s owners had no choice.
“It puts you in a state of depression sometimes, but you have to stay strong. It’s been like a nightmare, but you have to keep the faith, and you have to keep going,” Cooper said.
Keeping him strong, he said, are his faith and passion for cooking, a passion honed as a child in his grandparents’ house in Blanchisseuse, he said proudly.
But while that passion remains, the industry’s current state leaves him feeling empty.
“One of the things that chefs like in the kitchen is adrenaline – the rush of customers coming in…it’s just that we miss that. So, you know, now things have been slowed down dramatically,” the 27-year-old says.
Claiming the economic downturn for the restaurant began in 2018, the past few months have compounded previous concerns, according to co-owner Zanifa Le Bihan.
In February, bracing for the impact of the pandemic, the owners sought to pivot by adding pastry boxes to Zazou’s menu for the first time.
Little did they know then that the decision would later keep them afloat, for now, at least.
“Our customers have been so supportive. They would come in and say, I don’t need this, but they want to see Zazou survive. So when all of this is over, they have Zazou to come back to,” Zanifa said, her voice breaking.
On the verge of tears, she added, “A lot of times you feel so defeated because you’re doing so much. You have to be in touch with customers. Every day, you come to work. You’re still putting out everything, but what is coming back in?”