“I was very nervous and hesitant about taking on debt when business was unpredictable and unstable with the pandemic. SBDC advisor, Matt Faithauer, was patient and kind, and helped me feel at ease throughout the whole process.”
Comforts, a cafe located in San Anselmo, just celebrated its 35th anniversary as a family owned business. The cafe first opened in 1986 by husband and wife Glenn and Laura Miwa, and in 2017, their daughter, Erin Miwa, took over as the sole operator of the business. Comforts prides itself on its support and connection to the community and treating everyone as family. A majority of their employees have been with them for over ten years, and the cafe donates approximately $30,00 a year to local organizations.
The environment of Comforts can be described as a “homey” and comfortable atmosphere, which has contributed to maintaining a consistent core staff. When a customer walks into the cafe or takeout area, the staff often know their names and food preferences.
The food Comforts serves is seasonal, and uses local and organic ingredients as much as possible. The dishes reflect the comfort foods that the owners grew up with, along with dishes that other employees contributed over the years which include: Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, and other inspired comfort cuisines from around the world. They are best known for their Chinese chicken salad and dressing which they hope to expand into a wider retail market.
Erin believes that it’s important to put love into the food and create an atmosphere where people feel at ease and are welcomed as guests in their homes.
Along with many restaurants and food providers, Comforts was considerably impacted by the pandemic.
Pre-pandemic, a good day would be around 500 visitors, but during the pandemic, it dropped
significantly and now a good day is considered 350 visitors. Their revenue dropped over 65% during the pandemic and they are still working their way back up and have not reached pre-pandemic revenues.
They also lost about half their employees and had a hard time hiring them back as they already had
other jobs and couldn’t fit as many people in the kitchen due to COVID spacing requirements. Before
the pandemic, they had 110 employees and now they have 66. In addition, their landlord did not adjust
their rent so they had to pay full rent throughout the pandemic.
Erin came to the SBDC to get assistance with the pandemic funding as SBDC Advisor Matt Faithauer was a customer and had encouraged her to apply.
Comforts were fortunate they already had takeout as part of their everyday operations, so they did not need to pivot too much to survive. The adjustments they made were creating an online ordering system, pre-packaging items for easier grab ‘n go selections, adding new menu items to accommodate larger family meals, building a parklet, and instituting new health and safety systems and protocols.
Erin was unsure about how to approach the application process and was nervous to take on debt so she relied on SBDC Advisor, Matt Faithauer, to guide her through everything. Working together, she was able to get a PPP1 loan and the forgiveness which helped her keep current staff, bring back other employees, pay rent, and other overhead costs.
As a testament to the character and integrity of owner Erin Miwa, she decided not to apply for the PPP2 loan in order to leave the funding for other businesses that may need it more than her. Since her
customers showed amazing support, she was able to stabilize her business and felt she would survive
without additional funding after receiving the PPP1.
With assistance from the Marin SBDC, Comforts has been able to overcome its challenges caused by the pandemic and achieved the following results:
- Received $641,000 PPP1 loan from Bank Vista
- Bring back revenues to 75% pre-pandemic level
- Currently have 43 full-time employees, and 23 part-time employees
- Retained employees that have been with the business for 30 years
- Consistently bring in loyal customers who have helped the business throughout the pandemic