August 4, 2022

Local Latino-led businesses are adapting to stay afloat during the pandemic

La Patrona, a food truck, and Baila Con Gusto CT, a dance studio, have evolved through nearly two years of the pandemic in order to stay in business.

Joaquin Fernandez-Duque

February 03, 2022 at 01:03

Collaborating journalist

Courtesy of Jason Ramos

As New Haven businesses continue to experience economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Latino-led businesses La Patrona and Baila Con Gusto CT have been doing their best to weather the virus and keep things running smoothly. things.

The pandemic has affected many sectors, with Baila Con Gusto CT, a dance studio, and La Patrona, a food truck, having seen their business decline over the past two years. Forced to adapt to the difficult situation, both companies have sought to retain customers by following health and safety protocols and effectively using online platforms.

Founded in 2005, La Patrona is a mainstay of Long Wharf’s Food Truck Paradise, bringing Mexican food to hungry customers.

During the pandemic, the city reduced the maximum number of employees allowed at food trucks to three. Many food trucks have laid off their staff, with some forced to close completely. In 2021, there has also been a noticeable decrease in customer numbers during the summer, the largest and busiest time of year for the local food truck scene.

“It was a radical change,” said La Patron employee Ernesto Maril, translated from Spanish by the News. “It fell to 25 or 30% of the usual [amount of customers].”

La Patrona has managed to stay afloat largely thanks to its regular customers, of whom Maril says about 60% are Spanish-speaking members of the Latino community. Additionally, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, La Patrona has seen an increase in online orders, which has also helped the business stay afloat. Maril said that while most of the people he regularly sees at the truck are workers from local construction companies, many online orders seem to come from office buildings in the city, a new demographic that helps the business to survive during the pandemic.

(Joaquin Fernandez-Duque, collaborating photographer)

Baila Con Gusto CT, a dance studio founded in 2016, offers a number of Latin dance classes. These classes, combined with founder and instructor Jason Ramos’ ability to offer instruction in Spanish, attract many members of New Haven’s Latino community.

“Especially in New Haven, between half and one-third of the people who try our classes are of Latino descent,” Ramos said. “I think it helps the vibe because there’s a kind of familiarity with people who grew up listening to it or dancing… The family component really comes out when we have people from all walks of life, including Latinos, come to classes.”

Baila Con Gusto CT offers beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes for anyone interested, even for those who “don’t know the difference between salsa for your fries and salsa for dancing,” according to their website. Ramos added that he sees many people affiliated with the University coming to small group classes because he offers a discount to Yale affiliates and students.

“We provide dance services, but we also try to focus on the social aspect of dancing,” Ramos said. “We try to make it this exchange between the instructors, the students and the events that we organize. As is [the name] said, by dancing with joy and dancing with enthusiasm, we want people to be inspired by dance.

As these dances are very social in nature, the COVID-19 has been difficult for Ramos to overcome. While Baila Con Gusto CT was forced to halt all projects and in-person classes at the start of the pandemic, they attempted to keep the business going through online donation-based instructions for three to four months. . With the return of in-person classes, Baila Con Gusto CT has adopted a number of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We took a break in January for most of the month and we are barely starting classes again. Every time things happen, like a new variant, it’s still very new to us,” Ramos said. “We are still adapting and adhering to New Haven precautions and policies, we are doing disinfection and appropriate masks and distancing.”

The precautions, in addition to being important for health reasons, also helped clients feel comfortable participating in a social dance class. Elsa Hardy and Fernando Lora, two of the dance students taking part in Wednesday’s salsa class, hoped to learn salsa as they already knew how to dance bachata, Lora having learned from her family in the Dominican Republic.

“There was this place and one on Wooster Street,” Hardy said. “I liked that the people in this place were wearing masks in the photos.”

Although Baila Con Gusto CT and La Patrona have so far successfully weathered the challenges brought by the pandemic, the emergence of new variants has kept both companies on their toes and ready to adapt to changing circumstances. From online orders and limited staff to line dancing instructions and masks, these two Latino-led businesses continue their fight to survive the pandemic.

La Patrona is located at 398 Long Wharf Road and Baila Con Gusto is located at 618 Chapel St.