Arts & Entertainment Editor, Senior Copy Editor
As one of Isla Vista’s flagship eateries, IV Deli Mart is usually packed on weekend nights. On a typical Saturday night, the store is a cacophony of lively sounds: 20-30 students chattering in narrow aisles at any given time, constant phone-ringing from take-out orders, and sizzling grills that never seem to pause.
Now, owner Michael Hassan says that they’re lucky to have one or two customers in the store at a time.
“Business is down 85 percent. We are very, very, very slow — it’s even more than Christmas break,” Hassan shares in an interview with The Bottom Line.
In response to slower business related to COVID-19 health concerns, many restaurants in Isla Vista have temporarily closed or reduced their hours. Despite its reputation as a late night spot for college students, IV Deli is no exception to that trend. The restaurant, which normally operates from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. every day of the week, has modified its hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Keeping doors open isn’t the easiest or most financially sound decision for many business owners, but for Hassan, it was the right choice.
“I have people [who have] worked for me for years as my full-time employees. And those guys have families, they have bills to pay, they have rent to pay,” Hassan shares. “Those guys stick with me when it’s busy, and now that it’s slow, I have to stick with them.”
Staying open isn’t without its challenges. Despite Hassan’s best efforts, shelves that would normally hold toilet paper and hand sanitizer remain empty at IV Deli. Face masks are an even more difficult endeavor — every wholesaler Hassan contacted has been out of stock for the past couple of weeks, with many unsure when they’ll be able to restock.
Changes to the available workforce have also affected IV Deli’s operations. Hassan’s cashier staff primarily consists of students, many of whom have delayed their returns to Isla Vista in response to the extended stay-at-home order or chose not to return for spring altogether. Hours for all employees, including full-time employees who rely on the store as a primary source of income, have been cut.
In spite of low sales, however, Hassan is committed to ensuring that employees who need the income are given enough hours to survive.
“I know I’m not making money and losing money, just staying open. But part of the thing is I have to support my employees — they need me,” says Hassan.
Hassan and his staff are doing all they can to keep customers safe, including the use of gloves by employees, regular sanitizing of counter surfaces and credit card swipers, and compliance with no-contact delivery guidelines for services such as DoorDash and GrubHub.
While an increase in delivery and take-out orders — including more delivery orders for groceries like dish soap — have helped the store stay afloat, Hassan is concerned that online ordering trends in the time of COVID-19 will permanently affect customer habits. This could negatively impact IV Deli’s future operations, including future employment for cashiers.
In particular, COVID-19 restrictions introduce additional challenges for the future of businesses in Isla Vista. As seasonal businesses, many restaurants in Isla Vista rely on income during the school year to survive slow academic breaks. April and March are usually the busiest months of the year for Hassan. Without that income, he predicts that it’ll be “a very, very tough summer for not only IV Deli but every business in I.V.”
For now, Hassan still plans to serve IV Deli’s entire food menu, but that may be subject to change in the future. The next few weeks will be important for Hassan and his staff as they continue to assess the situation and determine if changes in menu offerings and marketing will be necessary.
“We wish that everybody [will] be safe. That’s the number one priority. We hope to see everybody back soon and supporting the local businesses here in I.V.,” says Hassan.
IV Deli is located at 6553 Pardall Rd, Isla Vista, CA 93117 and currently operates every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Please support local businesses by calling in take-out orders or placing orders via delivery services like DoorDash and GrubHub.