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Downtown Memphis restaurant still recovering from the pandemic

While Memphis has reached a record-high in employment, hospitality and leisure industries are lagging behind by 2%.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Inside Curry N Jerk on Monroe Avenue in downtown Memphis, you’ll find family and spices coming together with a Caribbean flavor. 

“We used to call it the poor man’s food but today, everything is expensive,” said restaurant owner Arturo Azcarate.

For him, the business isn’t about the money.

Instead, it's dedicated to his favorite chef, his mom.

“I went back to a childhood promise I made to my mother, who's no longer living, that I would buy her a restaurant,” he said.

Like other restaurants in the city, the pandemic hit the Jamaican dining establishment hard. 

“COVID made me realize that we can scale back and still meet the demand of our customers,” he explained. “So we only do dinner now.”

This week, the Greater Memphis Chamber announced jobs lost in the pandemic have been recovered and employment numbers are at an all-time high across certain industries in the city.

Now the group is working to maintain that number with accelerated certification programs.

At least two will begin by the end of this year and will include robotics, computer programming, and HVAC programs with companies ready to hire those people who complete the courses.

Chief Economic Development Officer Ted Townsend said the dining industry along with hospitality and leisure is lagging behind by 2%.

Azcarate’s business is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic two years later.  

The restaurant avoided shutting its doors altogether, instead of closing on Sundays and Mondays. 

“Sundays we were known for our brunch, and it was great, but not being able to get enough people to work and not burning off my staff,” he shared. “I realized if we go five straight days, and everybody gets the same days off, and I should have enough staff to cover the days that were open.”

Azcarate said dedicated staff is scarce. 

“If I’m going to invest the time to teach you how to cook the food, I expect for you to be here," he said.

He believes a lot of people who sign on aren’t committed. 

“People come in and just want to collect checks, and then they're gone once they get their paycheck," he said.

Azcarate applied for money from the federal government at the start of the pandemic which he said didn’t help at all. 

“Recently, we've been able to apply for things and then all of a sudden they say you're approved, and then SBA come back and say we're out of money,” he said.  

Azcarate’s focused on protecting the staff who have been with him through the tough times, which includes two of his sisters. 

He shared that what’s keeping him going is an old promise. 

“I think the drive and strive to make my mom happy has kept me going and that's why we're still here," he said.

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