Like you, reading this from the comfort of your home in some place that is perhaps not Yucatán, we are stuck at home for the most part and many businesses have either closed or are hanging in there by the tiniest of threads.
While tourism is pretty well a cadaver on the cold forensic table of the economic morgue, the home delivery business is booming. Although restaurants are limited to operating at a loss-producing 25% capacity and small retail shops limit their customers to two at a time, their take out services have, in many cases, exceeded all expectations. This has provided valuable insight into whether or not an actual brick and mortar location with all the inherent costs, is even necessary.
Even the magazine you are reading right now is usually printed and distributed to many points around the city, from restaurants to hotels and offices but that has changed and you are reading it now online. The printing presses are silent and the people charged with creating the print edition are safe at home, receiving a paycheck but not having to risk their health to come into work. Online means more flexibility in article length and quantity, but you don’t get that comforting feeling of an actual magazine in your hand with maps you can scribble notes on.
For business owners, this is a very difficult time and many sectors of the economy are adjusting, reworking, and re-inventing their activities.
Besides tourism in general, the restaurant industry has been particularly hard-hit. After over two months of no sales, many restaurants are struggling and some have closed for good. It is not easy – in fact, I would say it’s impossible – to successfully operate a restaurant with alcohol sales prohibited and capacity limited to 25%. Those that remain “open” have had to pivot their focus.
Unique Cooking Classes
One of our better-known and loved local chefs is the indefatigable Christian Bravo, who runs several restaurants in the area, notably Crabster in Progreso and San Bravo in Mérida. In addition to struggling to keep these ventures open, the pandemic has caused Chef Christian to venture into a new area that is quite interesting and novel: online cooking classes. Now, this might not seem that new, but what he does is send you – to your home – a kit that includes all the ingredients you will need, along with all the necessary condiments. When the predetermined date arrives, he shows up on your iPad or laptop and prepares the meal you have received step by step, with you!
There are two versions available, one for foodies with limited cooking experience which is a little more basic, and another more advanced version perfect for gifting. The second option includes special touches like a signature apron, a bottle of wine, and even possibly, a handy kitchen gadget appropriate to the recipe. For Father’s Day, it was a paella, complete with a paella pan, and coming up next: Chiles en Nogada!
It is such a great gift idea that Chef Christian now has corporate clients who are sending these to their most valued customers to show their appreciation.
In the case of Pueblo Pibil, the amazing Yucatecan restaurant in nearby Tixkokob, they have opened a tiny storefront in Mérida and are bringing their tasty dishes, cooked-in-an-underground oven known as a Pib, to Mérida for customers to pick up and enjoy at home. You can’t go to them, so now they come to you. A dedicated cook fires up the pits with local wood and prepares home-style dishes, some of which are in the Pib for up to 15 hours slow-cooking their way to deliciousness. If you call ahead to order, your food will be in Mérida the next day. You can also opt to have it delivered directly to your home.
With this, owner/manager Kari has found not only a way for clients to enjoy an authentic Yucatecan meal, but also to retain all staff and generate the sales necessary to enable them to work and get paid. This way they are not stuck at home with no income, staring at the walls and slowly losing their minds, and Pueblo Pibil survives another day.
And while the restaurants, tour companies, and many others struggle, the delivery sector is booming. UberEats and Rappi are the biggest local delivery services, with UberEats taking a massive chunk of a restaurant’s revenue with frankly outrageous commissions of up to 35% on the check total. This surcharge, coupled with a new federal tax of 8% on all digital and web-based platforms, from Netflix to Uber, has resulted in many new businesses and individuals appearing to deliver not only food, but almost anything to people unable to leave their homes. My company, Lawson’s, has transitioned from showing people the sights and sites of Yucatán to delivering food, meals, and packages for local companies. This gives the drivers and even guides a steady albeit modest income in the interim, while tourism hopefully makes an eventual comeback.
Party Favors to Facemasks
In order for the contagion rate to remain manageable and home deliveries to be safe, we must all wear facemasks. One local business, Dulce Creaciones, went from successfully creating customized party favors for weddings and other social events, to coming up with colorful and stylish facemasks and masks. Owner Alma says she saw the trend towards the end of March and began investigating into what makes a functional and effective facemask. By selling off some equipment she was no longer going to use, she was able to purchase the fabric and other raw materials she needed and is now able to meet her expenses and overhead. Complete with Yucatecan embroidery and floral designs based on the traditional Yucatan hipil, these items are very popular and the company is selling them online to people all over Mérida.
The Mayaland hotels at Uxmal and Chichén Itzá are supplied by a 150-hectare plantation where local fruit and vegetables are grown. The crops are also the backdrop for tours that take visitors out to see what is produced there. The current lack of any tourism activity -all the archeological sites are closed for the time being- has threatened the farm’s very existence, and so they have also shifted their focus.
For a fee, you can subscribe to a service that will bring you fresh and in-season items directly to your home. Items grown on the farm include all kinds of citrus from sweet and sour oranges, local Cajera (a bitter orange, increasingly rare in city markets), key and several other limes and lemons, and two kinds of grapefruit. There are also melons, watermelons, papayas, soursops, avocados, cucumbers, and fresh herbs.
Once a month, a truck leaves the plantation with boxes full of delicious, healthy food. By purchasing your produce this way, you are not only mitigating any risk to your health by staying home, you are also contributing to the well-being and sustenance of 25 workers and their families. If you read Sara’s article in the last issue of Yucatán Today on how to select a tourism provider or activity, you will recognize this golden opportunity to make a difference!
And so, while the pandemic has provoked the inevitable tales of woe, including layoffs and closings, there are also hopeful stories of survival, adaptation, and change as well. Perhaps the slowdown is not all bad, and that incessant clamor for growth and more growth may be diminished somewhat as we all slow down and take stock of our lives to reflect on what is really important.
Tel. (999) 154 9126
FB: Dulce Creaciones Studio
Contact: Luis “Rex” Chan
WhatsApp: 9971 25 37 66
Contact: Karina Lara
Tel: (999) 530 4021
Lawson’s Original Yucatan Excursions
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
Author of Modern Yucatan Dictionary
Founder of Mayan Xic
Director of Lawson’s Original Yucatán Excursions
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