Small business owners step up for first responders

Despite uncertainty, local small businesses step up for first responders
Members of the Richmond (left) and San Pablo (right) police departments are grateful for contributions of food and supplies from struggling local businesses. (Photo courtesy of both police departments)

By Kathy Chouteau and Mike Kinney

After a nurse-friend who works at Kaiser Vacaville shared the difficulties of serving on the COVID-19 front lines, Jennifer Arrouzet, who co-owns Café Soleil in El Sobrante with her husband Todd, worked her community contacts to round up hundreds of Clorox wipes and sanitizer spray bottles to donate to nurses at the medical center.

She didn’t stop there. She secured 5,000 N-95 masks and 20,000 gloves purchased for donation by a former neighbor, Tom Bolling, who knew Jennifer would find a good place for them.

The San Pablo Police Department picked up 1,000 masks, leaving with the promise that they’d share them with the Richmond Police Department, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department, San Pablo Fire Department and El Sobrante Fire Department—which they did.

Another 3,000 masks will be dispersed by Jennifer’s business to Kaiser Vacaville and Kaiser Richmond today via her nurse-friend. She’s saving the remaining 1,000 masks to give to any other first responders who need them in an emergency situation, and donated the gloves to local police and Kaiser Vacaville.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, local small businesses that are facing an uncertain future are still finding creative ways to support first responders.

San Pablo police and city officials have received donations of food and additional personal protective equipment from local businesses such as Maya Thai Laos Restaurant, La Strada Restaurant, FoodMaxx, and Krispy Krunchy Chicken, said San Pablo police Capt. Brian Bubar. Bubar thanked the San Pablo EDC for providing support and connections for both small businesses and first responders.

This week, Abraham Alex, owner of Krispy Krunchy Chicken in Pinole, began delivering chicken to police, calling law enforcement “the backbone that keeps it all together.

“We in business must do our part for them,” he said, adding that his business is also looking to donate to individuals and families in need.

In turn, police are doing their part to support local business. Last week, a San Pablo police sergeant bought 13 members of his team lunch at La Strada on Church Lane, which is offering takeout during the pandemic. The gesture deeply touched the Italian restaurant’s 24-year owner, Martin Gonzalez.

Right then, Gonzalez decided to offer 20 percent discounts for all first responders.

Despite uncertainty, local small businesses step up for first responders
San Pablo police receive food donations from La Strada restaurant in San Pablo.

“Everybody is struggling here, we are all in the boat,” Gonzales said. “There are no words to express having the support of the San Pablo Police Department to help keep our doors open.”

All in the same boat indeed. Small business owners and their staff are enduring an uncertain future after having to close their doors due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Many restaurants are relying solely on takeout or delivery or simply shutting down for the time being.

At the start of the shelter-in-place order, however, small business owners like Jennifer and Todd Arrouzet appeared more worried about their staff and the community than their personal survival. 

“I just saw a need, and it was desperate, and I acted,” Jennifer said, noting that she didn’t think anybody was prepared for the pandemic. “It’s so heartbreaking to see any first responder have to go through this. They can’t say, ‘no, I’m not coming in,’ and they’re human, just like us. That’s my drive.”

In addition to the donations of supplies to first responders, Jennifer created “Essential Packages” that customers can purchase for $40 from Café Soleil at 3550 San Pablo Dam Rd. The packages, which can be used by the purchaser or donated, include: three pounds of chicken, one dozen eggs, one gallon of milk, one loaf of bread, one pound of flour/risotto/sugar, three pounds of red potatoes and one sanitizer spray bottle (while supplies last). The packages can be picked up or delivered.

“My attitude from day one of this virus has been that if we can’t be at our best during the worst of times, what’s the point? We need to be kind. Everybody is suffering and I feel that. I’m just trying to set an example…If anyone is suffering or in need, call me,” said Jennifer.

“I’ve always believed that if you take care of your community and your people, you don’t need to worry about the rest. It will be ok,” she added.

Capt. Bubar echoed the sentiment.

“We are thankful of the words of encouragement we’ve received within the community and our social media platforms,” the captain said. “As first responders, our staff understands the responsibility to come to work every day and face this challenge head on. As difficult as ths ca be, we are here knowing our community recognizes and appreciates that challenge. We will get through this together.”