By Robyn Walker
Joe Stein, ‘15, owner of Sunrise Bistro, is one of many small businesses that was hit head-on when shelter in place took effect on March 16th. His story takes us from pandemic to pivot, with inspiring results.
The day after shelter in place took effect, Joe reported a 99.7% loss of sales. The realization hit that unless he could pivot the business to keep his workforce employed during this pandemic, the doors to his business might never open again. At this point he went into crisis management mode.
“I couldn’t imagine my business going to a dead halt….I got a feeling, if we didn’t figure out some way to operate under these circumstances, if we could be a little under water in these conditions, when the shelter-in-place is lifts, we’ll be okay.”
Impact of COVID- 19 on Small Businesses
reported a negative impact
have upskilled during the lockdown
are positive about the future
"We needed to make work for our staff"
Joe and his business partner quickly launched into action. They started a GoFundMe, and began making and delivering fresh, healthy meals to local hospitals, clinics and food banks. By feeding first responders and those most significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, it looked like he found a way to keep his employees on payroll.
Subsequently, Joe’s efforts gained momentum. Friends and school acquaintances reached out, asking what they could do to help. A friend from high school even put him on the news and he ultimately gave 6 news channel interviews in the same number of days.
Small Business Owner & Local Hero
In the meantime, let’s take a moment to step back and give you a bit of background about Joe. A Walnut Creek native, he attended public schools in the area and graduated with a Masters of Business Administration from Saint Mary’s College. Joe is also a United States Marine Corps veteran, having served two combat tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. He sounds like a hero to me and we’ve only just scratched the surface.
Sunrise Bistro & Catering
Sunrise Bistro and Catering has been operating since 1981. Joe took over the business in 2014 and to date they have employed thousands of bay area residents and currently have a staff of 70+ employees (e.g. service workers, cooks, bakers, drivers, etc). In the five years since Joe took on ownership, he has nearly doubled the business, with an increase of 90% in the catering side of the company.
Joe’s dedication to his employees knows no bounds. From organizing health appointments and treatments for employees (to the disbelief of the people at Workers’ Comp, who told him what he’d done was illegal), to paid leave for an employee whose wife was diagnosed with cancer; he even used his personal line of credit to cover employee wages for the first pay period after the shelter-in-place order. He really goes above and beyond.
The Golden Rule
“What I have learned from this [pandemic] has reinforced that my interactions with my staff and my customers – how I treat them and how strong our relationships are, are just as important as my bottom line…they’re interconnected”
From Pandemic to Business Pivot
Furthermore, with a total of nearly $75,000 out of an ambitious $100k goal and a total of 7,000+ meals delivered, the contracts continue to roll in. Joe’s story is not only about success in the face of adversity, but about how a community of people rally together to create solutions and come together in a time of need. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is certain for Joe.
"Don't let fear be the driving force in decision making"
Ultimately, by focusing on other people’s needs, he has been able to overcome the justifiable fear that presented itself at the start of the pandemic. As he looks at it, this perpetual motion of always thinking about and taking care of others has meant that he in turn is always looked after.