Guavate. Long lines, buses that transported large groups of people and families eating at outdoor tables were characteristic pictures during the Christmas season of the route of the pig in Guavate.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted another of Puerto Rican customs.
In March, when Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced decreed a total closure of the country to avoid the collapse of the sanitation system, many of the businesses that make up this area closed their doors hoping that in two weeks they would serve their customers.
That wish did not come true.
Merchants had to transform their services to support their families and those of their staff.
“Our employees were eager for us to open. They told me themselves: ‘Look, let’s open. What is there to do?’. They motivated me to continue, ”said Leida Rivera, owner of the El Mojito Lechonera, a family business with almost 40 years of existence.
In addition to physical distancing, the use of masks, hand disinfection and taking the temperature of those who come to the premises in search of their food, the team of one of the restaurants located in Cayey created a web page in which customers order their typical dish -which includes, among others, suckling pig, rice with pigeon peas, blood sausage and cake- and then they can go on to pick up the “servicarro” style.
“The losses are many; We have tried to keep the same staff (21 employees) … we have tried not to do it (fire) because my employees are my family, ”Rivera said in an interview with Primera Hora.
Similarly, he stressed that sales have decreased, especially in this Christmas season because, in addition to the decline in consumers, they cannot offer “catering” services at companies or private parties.
Previously, he assured, they have sold up to 3,000 dishes in a single activity. The current executive order prohibits large events without the dispensation of the Secretary of the Interior.
In the line of about ten people was Tere Miranda with her niece, both have been assiduous customers of the restaurant for five years and, although three weeks ago they still called to order their food, they already have the confidence to enjoy their dish at the place .
“This here is a success. I love it. It is very fast. The security measures are excellent. The treatment of employees is excellent; the food, divine ”, stressed the also nurse.
Dry sucker pockets
A section further up the mountain is Doctor Lechón. The business -founded the same year that hurricanes Irma and María hit the island-, in addition to receiving its customers at the five tables available to protect the distance between diners, they serve people who arrive in their vehicles as if they were a fast food restaurant.
There, the flow of customers depends on the provisions included in the executive order that is in force at the time.
“Currently, on weekends the visit of clients has dropped a lot, since, obviously, due to the dry law, people tend to stay a little longer at home and more on Sunday when there is a total ‘lockdown’,” said Francisco Vázquez, owner of the lechonera along with his twin brother José.
While Primera Hora was at the premises, a man came looking for a beer, but, given José’s refusal to sell him what he asked for, the customer left without consuming anything.
Among the state measures in force until January 7 to address the health emergency, the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited from 5:00 am on Saturdays until the same time on the following Monday.
“Yesterday, we were testing how we were going to do for 24 and 25 (December), how many pigs we are going to throw away. We were comparing with last year, but last year we did not have a pandemic … we were as if it were a first year ”, said Francisco.
He cataloged this reality as worse than that left by the atmospheric phenomena of 2017 because, although they did not have electricity or water, at least they saw a greater flow of people in the area.
Further on, a few minutes away on the road, is El Caldero del Fogón, a smaller place that was able to reopen its doors between June and July. Despite being optimistic, they are concerned about the constant change in restaurant occupancy.
“My living room is a bit small and narrow. Sometimes the whole audience comes at the same time and I have to maneuver with the client because it takes between 15 or 20 minutes… I have to get it. He wants to eat a little more comfortably, but unfortunately, in a maximum of 30 minutes you have to leave the room, “said Gilberto Torres, owner of the business.
The traders agreed that it is unlikely that they will recover the lost money, but they trust that the vaccination process initiated will help to celebrate Christmas 2021 as the country is used to.