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City Heights Restaurant Owner Tries To Find Success Amid Restrictions And Dwindling Funds

Restaurateur Ike Gazaryan stands in the Bedouin-style tent he's constructed i...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Restaurateur Ike Gazaryan stands in the Bedouin-style tent he's constructed in the parking lot of his new events space in City Heights on November 20th, 2020.

Ike Gazaryan has already opened up several restaurants in San Diego, including Pushkin, a Russian restaurant downtown.

In March, he was putting the finishing touches on a new wedding and events venue on El Cajon Boulevard in City Heights when the pandemic hit. In a matter of days, he lost all the money that had been paid for upcoming events — money he had already used to renovate the space.

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Matthew Bowler

“When we got hit with the COVID, all the people started coming in and either taking their deposits or their full amounts back,” he told KPBS. “So within the first month I had to refund almost $80,000 to people. And that money, I already spent that money. And I had to pull it out of my own savings to repay people, because it’s not their fault that we’re in this situation. I’ve paid every single person back the money, and that pretty much brought me near bankruptcy.”

So, Gazaryan had to get creative. He still needed to pay rent, on his restaurant locations. With restrictions limiting his business downtown, he converted the City Heights event space’s parking lot into a bedouin-style tent. There, he serves Uzbek food, cooked by his business partner who’s from Uzbekistan. Gazaryan, an Armenian by way of Moscow, called it Samarkand, after the city in Uzbekistan where he briefly lived.

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“Uzbek food is very good and very ancient and if you take all the central Asian countries, Samarkand in Uzbekistan is the oldest one of them all,” he said. “Because I love the food and I love the culture, I decided to open it.”

The restaurant is open three evenings a week — that’s all Gazaryan says he can staff right now with the level of business he’s receiving.

He hopes that soon delivery orders will also pick up, as more people stay inside during the modified lockdown.

Gazaryan did receive loans from the government to reopen after the initial shutdown this spring, but with restrictions and shutdowns still hampering business, he worries about paying all the money back to the government.

“We were encouraged to use that money, the SBA money and the PPP money, to keep our employees employed. To keep people off unemployment, try to do everything we did,” he said. “We did that, with PPP and SBA, I got maybe 180,000 dollars. And I have 10,000 left in the span of five months. I took that money and put it back into the business, hoping it would bring money back.”

Gazaryan did what the government asked him to do, but with limited hours of operation, and no more money from the government coming his way, he’s worried about whether he’ll make it these next few months. And whether new local businesses, across the city and country, will be able to survive this difficult time.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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