For Palo Alto restaurant owner Serkan Karabacak, shutting down his business during this crisis is not an option.
As a small business owner, the community has always been there for him, Karabacak explained. Now, he wants to do his part. Instead of scaling back operations at his restaurant Tuba, Karabacak has chosen to keep all of his employees on the payroll and is offering discounted and free meals to those in need.
"People have always come to support me … we have to help each other," Karabacak said.
Along with offering takeout and delivery, Karabacak will be serving free meals that can be picked up from his Turkish restaurant at 535 Bryant St. for the duration of the stay-at-home order. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., customers in need can come to Tuba for a free lunchbox, which will have rice, hummus and chicken satay. The offer also applies to his San Francisco Tuba restaurant at 1550 California St.
Customers won't have to provide any income statement or proof of need.
"They just need to mention what their situation is," Karabacak said.
On the other days of the week, the restaurant offers the same lunchbox, all day, for $5.50.
Karabacak, who also owns the Pastis and Cafe Brioche on California Avenue, opened Palo Alto's Tuba in January 2019, replacing Tuts Bakery & Cafe. He also manages a third Tuba location in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood.
The restaurant owner said he's used to challenges. Before he claimed his humble stake in the Bay Area food scene, Karabacak was a fresh college graduate from Turkey who arrived here in 2012 without knowing much English.
He enrolled in a language program, pursued his master's degree at DeVry University, and with his penchant for food and talking to people, soon decided to venture into the restaurant business.
"I started in this business as a waiter at Cafe Brioche," Karabacak said.
During the pandemic, sales at his Tuba restaurant in Palo Alto have fallen about 65% to 70%, Karabacak said.
"Sales are really down," he said. "And (there are) no people. No one can come in. Customers can't come order in the restaurant."
Despite the decrease in sales, Karabacak refuses to let go any of the approximately 35 staff members he employs at his five restaurants.
"I can't fire anyone," he explained. "We're trying to stay strong. Right now, it's time to support each other."
Karabacak also is serving donated meals to around 120 seniors at Palo Alto's Stevenson House.
How long he can continue his operations under the financial strain of the new restrictions is still uncertain.
"I'm really worried about rent and my employees," he said. "I'm hoping our government will solve this earlier, but I don't know. Right now, I'm praying."
This profile originally appeared in the March 27 print edition of the Weekly and is part of our ongoing series, "Ordinary people, extraordinary times," capturing the stories of locals during the coronavirus crisis. Read more of their stories through the links below:
To view the series on one page, visit multimedia.paloaltoonline.com.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.