Local Business Update: Mulberry & Vine

When Michelle Gauthier tried reopening Mulberry & Vine last month, she knew it wouldn’t be life as we know it. But her employees were eager to be back, and she was feeling the itch as well. So she hedged some bets, asked her vendors to fulfill a smaller order and took a chance. It did not pay off. Her biggest day of receipts that whole week — May 11 to 15 — was $865.

“It was a massive fail,” said Michelle, who doesn’t live above the store, but close. “Our sales were so low that it actually cost me more money to be open than to just stay closed.”

The restaurant (on Warren between West Broadway and Greenwich) opened in 2013, back when — this is hard to imagine — fast casual and kale were not standard fare. It was still hard then to get healthy food quickly, and Michelle, who had owned other retail stores before, saw an opportunity to serve the food she and her friends liked to eat without investing in a full-service restaurant. The idea was a hit with diners, but after a tough first year and a half, she realized she would have to scale the operation to get out of the day-to-day operations. She opened Nomad in 2015 and by 2018, added three more locations — two in Midtown and one in Dumbo.

“At first I really didn’t know what I was doing and operationally, we were losing money every month,” said Michelle. “Then we finally understood who our customer was, who we needed to ne, streamlined things, and turned it into a real business — not just a side project that seemed like it would be fun.”

When the coronavirus first emerged, she kept the restaurant open until March 20 — she couldn’t quite wrap her mind around closing, and her employees wanted to work. When her PPP loan came through early, on April 10, she had to either spend it within eight weeks or give it back. Her employees who were able to get unemployment were, with the $600 bonus, making more than they did on the job, so she hired back her employees who could not get unemployment and gave it a go.

“We were hoping to generate enough sales in Tribeca to open the others,” said Michelle. “But we realized we really need the office worker to start coming back.”

She has no regrets — it gave some of her employees work for a week and she was able to test the waters. If it was up to her, she said, she would stay closed till Labor Day. But she knows people want and need to get back to work. For now the target date is end of July, or maybe August. And it’s hard to know too what the state’s reopening phases will look like by then. (Office workers are not part of Phase 2, which should start at the end of the month.)

“At least this will give us some time to work out the new health requirements and put more systems into place and employ some people,” Michelle said. Then they will wait to see when the office workers come back. “And it will be a slow trickle till then.”