Hollis Barclay, a Guyanese-born entrepreneur, who opened BleuFin Bar and Grill in 2019 just before the coronavirus pandemic decimated small businesses in Brooklyn, is facing a new challenge, grappling with the changing landscape in her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood that is being overrun with smoke shops.
Barclay, on Monday, told this publication that her profits from the 637 Nostrand Ave. establishment have plummeted since patrons who previously supported her, are instead patronizing the five vaping and tobacco outlets that have sprung-up in just one week.
“There have been two restaurant closings on my block in one week, and five new smoke shops opened in the same amount of time. This tells you people are spending more on drugs, and weed, than on food. I don’t know what’s going on, it makes no sense,” said the small business owner, who argues that small businesses are still experiencing coronavirus hardship.
Because of the decline, Barclay said this troubling circumstance forces restaurant owners to be more creative in what they offer to customers.
“I had a good week, but I had to think outside the box, to find my way back to when business was good, and I had a profit of over half a million dollars gross sales, because the government was handing out unemployment money,” she said.
“The checks were being used to eat out,” she explained, adding “that restaurants are now shrinking in size, because we no longer have those customers, who were receiving those benefits.”
Barclay, who runs a full-service restaurant primarily with platters of authentic Guyanese cuisine, praised her staff for cooking like back home. With such tasty food, I should have a long line outside my restaurant, she argued, and reasoned, that with the changing times she is learning how to grow the business.
She plans to start a promotion to add Shark Tacos to the menu for Taco Tuesdays. The fish she said is not only consumed by Guyanese but Trinidadians, as well, who enjoy the seafood with plantain, and with ‘bake’ (bread).
Barclay who was forced to lay-off staff, now that the weather is changing, will soon have to rehire workers as she works to revamp the eatery.
“I was in a very uncomfortable place in the last couple of weeks when the number of patrons declined.”
“Then I started thinking, how do I turn this around. Then I realized there is a market for late night dining. Young folks come out late looking for food. This is where I will really benefit over the coming season,” said the small business owner.
“This is where my focus must be. You must be very creative in how you offer and package your business to customers who are finnicky, for them to come and spend their money.
To reinvent her business, Barclay will host a Caribbean Style Thanksgiving “FriendsGiving” on Nov. 15. The menu will include Jerk turkey with mango chutney, Guyanese-style Chowmein, Pineapple Fried rice, and Seafood Squash, among other delicious fare.
The business owner was also approved for a donation of toys from the non-profit Toys for Tots organization, to share goodwill in her community over the Christmas holidays.
She is hoping to attract more Guyanese patrons to the eatery, in addition to planning themed events such as karaoke and live bands. She is also in conversation with Stefani Zimmerman, Assembly District 56, who has promised to support her efforts to stay in business.
Her push started with a meeting with the Black Restaurant Coalition, (BRC). Her concern is what plans the organization has to help small businesses, post pandemic.
Barclay is on her way to reinventing BleuFin Bar & Grill with the hopes of maintaining a presence in her community, as she fights to stay open.