East End chef Ron Hargrave is selling two of his three restaurants in the district as the impact of COVID-19 continues to take its toll.
Hargrave has put Taco Cantina and Eagle Rays up for sale.
“There is just no business and we have not heard anything that gives us much hope of any sort of sustainable tourism in the first couple of months of next year,” he said.
Despite the fact that a vaccine is on the horizon, he does not believe that will provide a total solution for the industry.
“We don’t know how many people are actually going to take it. I hear some people saying they can’t wait to get it and others saying they definitely won’t be taking it. I don’t think it is the be-all and end-all,” he said.
With bills mounting, Hargrave said it was simpler to focus his attention on his main restaurant, Tukka, and see if he could sell the other two businesses to someone who was better placed to “ride out the storm”.
Tukka is currently only open on weekends but Hargrave said the oceanside restaurant is “here to stay”, no matter what.
He said East End had been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with many of the businesses reliant on tourists from the Morritt’s Tortuga and Wyndham Reef resorts.
“On Seven Mile Beach there is at least a mini domestic economy that still exists,” he said.
“It is very hard out here to recreate something and adjust your business model when there is no one to adjust it for.”
He said the entire district was impacted, with cab drivers, dive companies, attractions and other business all hurt by the loss of tourism.
“There is a lot of unemployment. The economy in East End is non-existent,” he said.
Hargrave paid for repatriation flights for 22 employees at the outset of the pandemic. Staff that have been retained are restricted to working two or three days per week.
He said there had been no news on whether the pension payment waiver would be continued into next year and it was difficult, as a business owner, to hang on indefinitely.
“We are still waiting to hear a plan (for the return of tourism),” he said. “I understand that we are very lucky to still be here in Cayman without COVID and we do appreciate what the government has done to get us to this point. From our perspective, in East End, we really could have done with more support.”
Government has previously indicated that its reopening plan is dependent on a vaccine. It announced last week that it would likely be in a position to begin reopening the borders from March for people who have been vaccinated. There have also been a variety of loans and grant programs for tourism-related businesses impacted by the crisis as well as a $1,000-a-month stipend for individuals who have lost work.