As the countrywide shutdown completes one month, Nadvie Ahmed finalises his plan to exit from a partnership with Indian restaurant franchise The Bhoj Company.
He had already closed his deals with the suppliers of spices and the chefs who used to fly in from Kolkata to give Dhaka foodies a taste of popular Indian dishes like chicken kosha or paneer butter masala.
"I do not expect to see that my restaurant's two outlets in Uttara and Banani will ever be the jam-packed place of food lovers that they used to be, not at least by the end of this year," Nadvie said.
"So, I have got all set over the last 48 hours to close down the outlets."
The life of a restaurant is highly dependent on everyday revenue in the capital where every commercial square foot is highly priced with additional expenditures of VAT, service charges, utility bills and staff salaries.
Nadvie watched helplessly his revenue dwindling fast as much as 90 percent ahead of the shutdown in all his five food joints. "Customers were already thinning out, afraid of the contagion, especially when social distancing became a buzzword."
The restaurant owners are at risk of being bank defaulters, tax defaulters and losing business, said Rezaul Karim Robin, secretary general of the Restaurant Owners' Association.
Dhaka city has about 10,000 restaurants, sweetshops, tea stalls and other small eateries by the roadside. "All the businesses shrank by 90 percent, if not more, overnight," Rezaul said.
And outside the capital, there are 40,000-45,000 more restaurants across the country. About 18-20 lakh workers' livelihoods depend directly on these businesses.
But if the entire supply chain is taken into consideration – from the restaurant owners down to farmers who produce vegetables and rear livestock – the sector involves at least two crore people, Rezaul added.
Nadvie pressed the shutdown buttons first for the ones with the high overhead costs and is now worried over four of his other ventures – The Painted Chopstick, Polao Ghor, Lean Nation, and Rice and Noodle.
When Nadvie's restaurant business is on the ropes, the whole supply chain that developed with the boom of hotels and eateries across the city is also feeling the pinch.
The businesses grew over the years with a steady increase in customers of almost all ages who would find that eating out was the only relaxation in their lives in a noisy, bustling city full of hectic existence.
The coronavirus has changed that dynamics.
As a result, Nadvie felt forced to lay off 25 employees while 45 others – delivery men, cleaners, helpers and other part-time staff, aged below 25 – had gone back to their homes in the country before the shutdown was enforced.
The restaurant owner
That made it quite difficult to keep the businesses up and running with the option of takeaways and deliveries. Still, Nadvie has been trying to keep things afloat with the help of mobile food delivery companies like Foodpanda and Uber Eats.
"But you know the entire business model is going downhill. Through the home-delivery system, about 25-30 percent of the revenue is shared as commission and there is no promotion of the brand. When people eat at the restaurant, they tend to order more and invite others."
Initially, Nadvie thought the shutdown would remain in force for two weeks. But as it is about to pass a month, he fears that the possibility of a return of the business anytime soon is getting slim.
"Even if the lockdown is lifted, the coronavirus will stay, causing a near-permanent impact on lifestyles," he said, adding that it is unsure what was in store for the future.
The meat supplier
Nadvie's meat supplier, Mizanur Rahman Mizan, said the demand for his processed chicken and beef went down by 50 percent in the third week of March to 80 percent to zero since the shutdown began.
He has no income for more than a month but rents of his two outlets in Gulshan and Banani, salaries, VAT and other associated costs amount to about Tk3 lakh a month.
Mizan said he could negotiate a delay in payment of rents with the landlords because of a long-term relationship with him but was trying to support his 50 staff as best as he could.
There is a pile of invoices from him to the 60-70 restaurants, to which he delivered meat.
But he knows he will not get any money from them for the foreseeable future while, on the other hand, his employees need their salaries to survive.
"I do not have the money to go through months without an income. Small businessmen like us have been demolished and our financial wounds will not heal," Mizan said.
Md Shahin, whose trade was to truck in the chicken from Mymensingh, process the chicken meat at his Jurain warehouse and send it to his five partners, including Mizan, has no job too.
His fate is also tied with the reopening of restaurants. The truckers and his 15 employees are sitting idle.
Shahin told his staff to wait for salaries until his business gets back into gear. Without salaries, he has at least Tk1 lakh expenditure in rent and other bills. He looks forward to a government exemption from utility bills.
"I am deep into worries. If the crisis lingers, what will I do?" says a glum Shahin.