'Time To Cut Losses': Inside The Final Days Of A Boston Restaurant | WBUR News

In a lot of ways, it felt like a typical morning at The Kitchen Cafe. Customers trickled in and out. Music bounced off the walls decorated with chalkboards and Banksy prints. And the air was filled with a comforting clatter: crackling bacon on the flat top grill, the squeal of steam from the espresso machine, the thump of the cash register.

Manager and co-owner Jayme Valdez called out orders in English and Spanish, and doled out elbow bumps to customers as they picked up their food.

What was not typical, however, was that by the end of that mid-November day the cafe — located a few blocks from South Station in downtown Boston — would be closing its doors for good. After four years in business, The Kitchen Cafe would join roughly 3,400 other Massachusetts restaurants that have gone into hibernation or out of business during the pandemic, according to estimates from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

In recent months, we've heard a lot about how hard it is for restaurants to stay open. But what we often don't hear, is that closing can be just as difficult.

WBUR spent time at The Kitchen Cafe to document its final days. To hear that story, click the play button above. Below are excerpts from interviews with Valdez, edited for length and clarity. 

My COVID Economy: Jayme Valdez

Jayme Valdez, co-owner of The Kitchen Cafe, in November 2020. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

How did The Kitchen Cafe come to be?

I have done everything in the food industry from delivery driver all the way to distribution, inventory, managing food costs. I was working for a major casino in New York City in the food and beverage department.

Right after we got married, in 2016, my wife got a new job here in Boston.

When I moved to Boston, I was hired by a shellfish company as a warehouse manager. After three or four days of me plowing snow, I said, "Dude, this wasn't the job I got hired for."

So then my wife said, "Let's look to see if we can buy a cafe." She was actually the one that found [the space]. I came and looked at it, and the bones were here. And I said, "I think we can take this to the next level."

I was very excited in the beginning. "We’re buying restaurant! We’re buying restaurant!" But once it gets closer and closer, and then here’s the key …

It was very, very scary. I have memories and I have pictures of days when we didn’t have no traffic at all.

The cafe that took four years to build, would take about two days to break down. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

When did that change?

[In early 2017], we finally got some acceptance and the business just took off. We were open on Monday to Friday for business, from 7 'til 3. I think between those five days we had over 500 checks every single day. There was times that before we open at 7 we had a line outside already. So, it was great. It was very great.

We started seeing some profit from the store pretty fast, but we put it back into the store. There was a lot of equipment that needed to be improved. Mid-2019, [we] start seeing some extra money in the bank. And by the beginning of 2020, we’re over that hump.

And then the pandemic happened.

How was the business impacted by the pandemic?

There were days during May that we literally had 15 checks a whole day. And I have a team of 20 people. Those days were extremely long.

We did cut the menu, but people were coming to order what they want, and if you don't have it, they were walking out. We tried takeout orders. We tried to do dinner. We tried to do brunch. We're not in the right neighborhood, unfortunately.