A downtown kabob restaurant started 2½ years ago by an immigrant from Puerto Vallarta, México is the last place you’d expect to find mouth-watering Mediterranean dishes, but 44-year-old Gus Pineda has gotten the compliments – and the business – to back up his claim.
Friday afternoon, he lamented the impact of the federal government shutdown on Gus Kabob, which gets up to 40 percent of its regular clients from IRS workers. Nighttime business at the restaurant, which has inside seating for 75 and an additional 25 outdoors, has bottomed out because IRS has shuttered its offices on the floors above the Tower at the Downtown Center next to the Fresno Convention Center.
“Now, there is nobody,” said Pineda about nighttime business.
Yet, he digs into his savings to pay his employees because “I don’t want to lose them.”
“I will continue as long as I can,” said the widowed owner, who has a son at Sunnyside High School.
He blames President Donald J. Trump for the economic impact the federal government shutdown has had on his and surrounding businesses that depend on federal workers for a healthy portion of their business.
Kamal Brah, who owns and operates the Subway franchise in the same building, reports he has lost $1,000 daily through the shutdown which reached its 29th day on Friday. He has also cut back operating hours and laid off workers.
The owner of another eatery in the building reports a “storage room full of spoiled food” because federal workers make up 75 percent of her business.
“It will be hard to recover from this,” she said.
Pineda and others participated in a forum organized by Fresno Congressmembers Jim Costa and TJ Cox, both Democrats. Both sought to learn about the impact the shutdown has had in the Valley.
The 40-minute forum was held at Brah’s eatery.
“The human faces are not just the 800,000 federal workers but also those people who are not federal workers,” said Costa. “The majority of Americans, as do the majority of federal employees, live paycheck to paycheck.”
Costa said there is a ripple effect in the local economy.
“It is irresponsible to shut down the federal government. It is like a third-world country,” he added. “No other country shuts down its government.”
Cox echoed Costa.
“This shutdown is irresponsible. It is immoral, and it is also illegal,” said Cox, who is supporting legislation that will pay those federal employees who have been deemed essential to the job and have been working without getting paid.
Cox said he has heard from people who worry about paying their mortgage, making a car payment, purchasing needed drugs, or figuring out how to “put food on the table.”
Cox said it is illegal for workers to not get paid. Congress passed legislation this week that Trump signed approving back pay for those federal workers who did their jobs during the shutdown, but paychecks for an estimated 800,000 workers who have been impacted contain no money.
Three days ago, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit by unions demanding that workers be paid during the shutdown.
Restaurants that serve federal workers aren’t the only ones affected by the shutdown.
A union representative of 300 correctional officers at the federal prison in Mendota said the workers are undergoing “multiple hardships.”
“There are single parents with daycare payments to make, or fuel to get to work,” said the union rep.
Meanwhile, the prisoners “have lavish holiday meals and they taunt the guards,” he added.
A woman who represents meat inspectors who have been reporting to work without getting paid broke down during the forum and got a hug from Costa.
Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, pointed to uncertainty from growers regarding federal loans.
Costa said Trump’s demands for $5 billion for a federal wall are unreasonable because the bipartisan budget passed last month by Republicans and Democrats including $1.6 billion for border security.
Plus, the Trump administration has barely spent 10 percent of funds that were approved last year, said Costa.
“I have a large family, and when my kids ask for seconds, I say ‘Eat what’s on your plate first,’” said Cox. The Trump administration needs “to start eating what’s on their plate first.”
Trump tweeted Friday afternoon that he “will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown” Saturday afternoon from the White House.