It would have been really easy for Charles Paz and Guivia Uchida to throw in the towel.
As co-owners of Besitos Fine Cuisine – a boutique eatery in Downtown Manteca – they have been fighting an uphill battle since the start of the pandemic to keep their doors open and their customer base happy.
It hasn’t been easy.
From having to eliminate in-person dining and transition the menu to exclusively takeout back in March to investing thousands of dollars to overhaul the back patio to satisfy outdoor dining requirements only to see that rug pulled out from beneath them last week, the owners at Besitos have been doing everything possible to keep their small slice of heaven alive and kicking during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 era.
And while their family style takeout dinners have been a hit, they’ve been reinvesting that money back into a constant and ongoing effort to make sure that the seniors and the less fortunate in the community have something to eat – taking the lead in fostering the sort of community-based outreach that is essential during times of unrest and anxiety.
“There is so much negativity and we’re trying to keep a positive outlook on everything and are happy that we can stay open,” Paz said. “At first I was one of the ones thinking that ‘this is just the flu’ but Guivia was the one that put it into perspective for me – she would say, ‘Look – whatever it is, we have both of our feet and both of our hands and we’re able to work so we have to do whatever we can to help.’
“It’s really easy to stop and say, ‘this sucks,’ but no matter what they throw at us, we’re going to get through it.”
While restaurants throughout the Central Valley are trying everything that they can to stay afloat – including some trying to skirt the rules intended to keep the public safe and stop the spread of the virus – Besitos has worked to retool its approach to customers while being a good member of the community.
Rather than focusing on individual dishes for takeout Paz and Uchida came up with the idea back in March to feature family-style takeout that makes it easier to cook large quantities in bulk and provide those meals to customers at a surprisingly affordable place.
According to Paz, Uchida’s multiethnic background allows her to bring a Mediterranean flair to the menu while he personally favors big plates of American classics and comfort foods. That allows for a unique fusion that is aided by an adventurous and creative streak that results in unique items that people usually can’t find outside of urban centers with a bustling restaurant scene.
The shift in approach coupled with the changing requirements for restaurants has made operating a challenge. Paz said that outlook has been everything when it comes to dealing with the difficulties while at the same time being a responsible and contributing member of the greater community.
“First it’s jump through this hoop, and then it’s three flaming hoops while bouncing a ball and a monkey is throwing stuff at you,” Paz said of the changes that the restaurant has had to make throughout the pandemic. “But we figured it out, got through it, and survived, thanks to our community, our customers, word of mouth, and the donations for the things that we’re trying to do for the community.
“It’s a sad time, a hard time, and a stressful time, and a lot of people are thinking that mentally they can’t do it right now. But if we can do it, everybody can do it and we want to see people make it through this and with the community together we can do that.”
And amidst all of the challenges the giving spirit still remains inside of the kitchen at Besitos.
Fueled by an experience early in the pandemic at a local big box retailer both Paz and Uchida have made it a point to ensure that the elderly and the less fortunate in the community are taken care of – working to routinely produce meals for seniors that can be picked up at the restaurant or are taken down to the Manteca Senior Center and supporting non-profits aiding the homeless like Inner City Action.
That level of social responsibility, Paz said, was spurred by Uchida’s reaction to seeing an elderly woman shopping alone at Costco and having the realization that some people are having a much harder time in dealing with the “new normal” than others – something that he said put everything into the proper perspective.
“Early on I was doing the shopping and being careful, but she (Uchida) came with me on a trip to Costco,” Paz said. “She motioned for me to look across the store and we saw what appeared to be a 90-year-old woman that was all alone shopping for herself and she looked like she was terrified – I didn’t know whether I should have gone over there and asked her if she needed any help and give her our business card and tell her that we would be glad to do her shopping for her or leave her alone because I didn’t want to scare her,” Paz said. “It really made us think about what we can do for seniors in the community that are having to go out and brave this.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but came to find out that it’s really hard for seniors to go out and do the basic things and we wanted to do what we could to help.”
And the community noticed.
Once word began spreading on social media about the restaurants efforts to help seniors – going above and beyond just the basic survival fights that many businesses were facing – people started leaving upwards of $20 or $40 on top of their bill to help fund the effort.
One man, Paz said, came in and said that he appreciated what they were doing and handed him an envelope and by the time he realized that it contained $200 in cash, the man was already gone.
“I don’t know if people realize it or not, but when you’re in the food service industry and you’re used to buying things to feed people $200 goes a really long way and can feed a lot of people,” Paz said. “When all of this started, I told her that I was going to apply at Costco and see what I could do about some making some extra money and she told me ‘No – we have a restaurant and that’s what we can do to help ourselves and other people.’
“It’s about the community coming together to help other people in the community, and if we can do that, we’re going to get through this thing – together.”
Besitos’ Fine Cuisine is located at 216 W. Yosemite Avenue in Downtown Manteca and is currently open from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday for family-style dinner, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Friday and Saturday for breakfast and 6 to 8:30 p.m. for dinner, and from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sunday for breakfast. The rest of the week is dedicated towards the meal prep portion of the business and additional hours may be coming. For additional information call 707-5801 or search for Besitos Fine Cuisine on either Facebook or Instagram.