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Business is down but San Diego's El Pollo Grill uses social media, promotions to drive to attract customers

Nearly two months ago, El Pollo Grill reduced hours for many employees amid the pandemic, but decided against laying off workers and temporarily closing.

SAN DIEGO — Businesses affected by coronavirus are still trying to find their way during the pandemic. El Pollo Grill, which has three locations in San Diego County, is working hard to attract customers through promotions and social media.

“I’m that type of entrepreneur that will make changes in a heartbeat, blink of an eye, I’ll make those changes no questions,” said Victor Lopez, whose parents started the business in 1983.

El Pollo Grill, like all California restaurants, was forced to serve customers by carry-out and delivery only. For Cinco de Mayo, they offered unprecedented specials to spread the word that resulted in unprecedented demand.

“The demand was so overwhelming with people calling, the phone never stopped ringing, the online orders never stopped,” said Lopez.

The restaurant ended up having to cancel orders and issue many apologies to disappointed customers during a time when fewer of them are coming in.

“I don’t think any restaurant as ever experienced anything like this,” Lopez said.

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Nearly two months ago, El Pollo Grill reduced hours for many employees, but decided against laying off workers and temporarily closing.

“At that moment, two months ago, I would have preferred [to close], you know? But now I’m glad I didn’t. We stayed open and a lot of restaurants stayed open,” reflected Lopez.

To help cover some costs, he applied for the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program. It gives forgivable loans to eligible businesses if they keep employees on the payroll for eight weeks and the loan money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.

It took several weeks to get approved, but Lopez finally completed the paperwork on Sunday. El Pollo Grill is in a less urgent situation than others because they were able to keep their doors open, but he said the money provides an essential cushion to weather the pandemic as funding for other federal programs, like the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation that gives unemployed workers an extra $600 a week, runs out.

“It’s hit the small businesses, but down the line is when we’re going to know if we need the money,” said Lopez. “Down the line, the recession is going to hit us.”

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