Before March, local restaurant and sandwich shop Cheese n’ Stuff was a “zoo” making upward of 500 sandwiches daily for its loyal customers. Now, the once lively shop is barely making 50 sandwiches a day and is missing its usual rush of hungry students.
Cheese n’ Stuff, home to old-fashioned sandwiches and cheeses since 1986, opened July 6 after closing March 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When owner Sam Juha opened shop, he had a vision of creating original, “no gimmicks” sandwiches. He added that he built up a community around the shop while refusing handouts, and he simply wants people to buy his sandwiches.
“This is my baby. … I want to stay in business. I should be retired at my age, but I just want to be here,” Juha said. “I love to be around students. Young people — they keep me young!”
Because more than 90% of the shop’s income is based on student sales, the business might not be able to quickly recover from the pandemic’s impact.
As a result, Juha hopes a solution to COVID-19 will be found and students can come back. Juha said he and his staff are using the extra time to clean and keep shop, but added that he has lost more than $3,000 in the past few months and had to throw away some food.
“Mentally, it drives you crazy — sitting doing nothing. Time goes so slowly,” Juha said. “I need them to come and buy my sandwiches. That’s all I want.”
To maintain operations, he received $2,500 from the Berkeley Relief Fund. He also used the money received from a Paycheck Protection Program loan, as well as personal funding, to continue paying his main employees.
With the store open, Juha has ensured the safety of those in his shop through the use of face masks, hand-washing and a partition between the customers and employees.
Despite these measures, the lack of customers is concerning, and Juha estimates that the shop is only making 10% of what it used to. He still is hoping to bounce back once fall semester begins at UC Berkeley, even if there are fewer students, because “anything will help.”
In the past, Juha added, Cheese n’ Stuff catered for athletic events and parties, many of which were canceled by shelter-in-place orders. Juha said he understands that business won’t come back at 100%, but thinks that a 30% or 40% recovery in catering orders would help.
“We need the support of our community and students. Hopefully, they come back, because that’s all we need,” Juha said. “We’ve been here 34 years, and I’d like to be here for a longer time.”