The Highland neighborhood’s Scratch Burrito & Happy Tap will close Wednesday, April 29, after owner and founder Clay Markwell watched his restaurant’s sales fall by more than half over the last few weeks during the coronavirus-related restaurant shutdown.
“We fought as hard as we could and realized that having a solvent business would not be possible,” said Markwell, 37, who opened the restaurant at 4262 N. Lowell Blvd. in 2013. “Our sales have been cut down by 52 percent, and in an industry where people run on single-digit margins, the math just doesn’t add up.”
The restaurant, which specialized in burritos, salads and quesadillas with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, would have been open for seven years in June, Markwell said. Scratch Burrito & Happy Tap also earned the second part of its name by serving house cocktails, wine and beer on tap.
Its staff of 12 will also be let go on Wednesday.
“It’s very bittersweet,” said Markwell, who plans to become a certified addictions counselor and earn his master’s degree in clinical mental health after Scratch Burrito closes. “All businesses have a shelf life, and lots of them are going to meet theirs early because of all the (coronavirus) challenges we’ve been dealing with.”
Markwell said he was contacted by NBC’s “The Today Show” about filming a segment on the desperate plight of small businesses during the coronavirus shutdown (He’s not sure if or when it will move forward). He said Scratch Burrito immediately pivoted to offering carryout in the first days of the stay-at-home orders.
Like so many other restaurants, it hasn’t been enough to make ends meet — particularly without the lucrative in-house alcohol sales that provide a financial cushion for most restaurants.
“It was an ambitious undertaking (to open) a restaurant when I was 29 years old,” Markwell said. “But I set out what I accomplished to do. We’ve had countless emails and phone calls from people saying we created a place of community for them — people who were dating when we opened and are now married with 7-year-old kids. We were a place where people could meet and greet and break bread.”
As recently as May 2017, Scratch Burrito made The Know’s “Best Things We Ate This Week List,” when contributor Allyson Reedy hailed their Vietnamese Wings as “sweet and spicy wings (that) were so delicious that I returned to the Scratch booth three times in spite of having already eaten a slew of others.”
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