Eida Arito loved to travel from her home in Totowa to her real home: Villa Victoria in Montclair.
The restaurant owner has spent nearly 23 years making her Park Street store a staple for local pizza. Its slices of chicken parmesan have become legendary; a constant contender for the best pie in town.
Now, Arito prays to hit every red light – anytime in terror that she’s about to lose her beloved business.
“It’s hard to get out of bed,” Arito told NJ Advance Media, through tears. “Just to be here and see the failure and the disappointment.”
She says she needs a miracle, whether it’s a huge spike in activity or a partner stepping forward to shoulder the financial burden. Otherwise, Villa Victoria will close any day now.
The pizza restaurant’s longstanding peril is shared by many in the restaurant industry, as aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic persist. A year spent in the red is not immediately wiped out by a return to 100% catering capacity, especially since a labor shortage is wreaking havoc on restaurants across the state.
Such is the enigma of Villa Victoria: even if Arito could fill her sleeping dining room, she could not equip it.
The pizzeria is so understaffed that Arito was forced to close the store for several days while looking for new employees, a story now common in struggling restaurants.
“They want them to want around $ 1,100 (per week) just for doing the dishes,” she says. “And they don’t even want to be on the books because they want to collect unemployment. People will pay cash because they are desperate.
Villa Victoria found itself in trouble after its adjoining dining room went unused during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and its restaurant business completely dried up. Even take-out sales fell by 40%.
The store still hasn’t seen a rebound in business, says Arito. After a slight spike just at the reopening, sales are down again.
Villa Victoria was not eligible for PPP loans due to a lack of employees on its payroll, says Arito, and its landlord has not provided any flexibility on rent. The deportation process has started.
Arito tried to find partners for the business. She considered selling it directly – even if it’s for half its value, but was unlucky. She expects to close in the next few days.
A single mother who raised her two children in the pizzeria, Arito has focused on supporting her family and found a way to keep her home, which she fears losing to the business.
“I haven’t slept,” says Arito. “I don’t know how I’m going to support my children. I have no savings. We put everything back in the business.
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