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COVID-19 threatens longevity of small businesses as many face evictions

Wings 87 is locked out due to rent debt, but owners still helped to feed frontline workers

HOUSTON – With COVID-19 sweeping the world, some small businesses are struggling with sales. The harsh reality?--Livelihoods are in jeopardy.

Local business owners are fighting to help the healthcare workers while fighting a battle their own to keep the lights on.

Wings 87 co-owners Rashid Minhas and Nyn Riffat said they are determined to be a voice for small businesses in the Greater Houston area.

“We built everything from scratch, and we opened this business,” said Minhas.

Wings 87 is a small local chicken shop on Alabama Street that opened six months ago before lawmakers began restricting travel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Minhas said his wife Riffat invested their life saving into their business. However, they said serving others is core to their foundation.

“Community service is very close to our hearts,” Wings 87 co-owner Riffat said.

From Day 1, Wings 87 has offered a 10% discount to neighbors, teachers, veterans and first responders, Minhas said. They also donate 5% of gross sales every month to a domestic violence center in Houston.

Fighting coronavirus

The owners of Wings 87 never anticipated the coronavirus pandemic.

“Since February, we started getting into this COVID-19 stuff and that was the time when we were just about picking up our business and that was when things really went downhill,” Minhas said.

They say their landlord warned that if they could not pay their debt they would be shut out on Wednesday.

“And I said okay,” Minhas said. She said they were making arrangements to pay by the end of Tuesday.

But even with dwindling sales, business owners are setting their priority on the lifesavers: doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and first responders.

Nelvin Adriatico, the owner of Core Realty and Adriatico Investments, said he organized a massive effort to feed medical and first responders at the Fort Bend testing site Monday and Tuesday. He said he worked his business contacts to collect food and donations, including 2500 masks and hundreds of plates of food.

“Most of the restaurants are closed in the Fort Bend area,” Adriatico said.

That is when Minhas and Riffat also stepped up for the workers at the Fort Bend testing center.

"[I asked them], 'Can you guys donate 100 burgers?'--They said right away--,'Yes!' " Adriatico said.

The burgers and fries were a hit with many frontline workers. Adriatico asked the couple if they could donate again Tuesday.

"These people have gone above and beyond," Adriatico said.

But when Minhas went to cook food for Tuesday morning, he discovered he had been locked out of his business. The landlord posted a note notifying the owners that the businesses would not be reopened until their debt was paid.

“The owner came with their staff and locked it down,” Minhas said. “No warning. No opportunity to clean up.”

The food for the medical staff and first responders were stuck inside the restaurant. Minhas and Riffat said they were devastated.

“At a humanitarian level, that landlord is not a robot-- blood runs in his veins as well,” Riffat said.

Still, they wanted to honor their commitment to their first responders and medical community, who are helping to save lives.

“We immediately went home. We had some rice and some vegetables and said, let’s start cooking,” Minhas said.

They made 70 boxes of fried rice and fried chicken to honor their commitment to these heroes.

"Whatever we can do-- we will continue to do. Things like this will not stop us," Riffat said.

They are still making arrangements to pay their rent.

Adriatico, who is also a landlord, said he’s working with his tenants. He said all small businesses should be treated the same.

“Even though the law says that we can lock anyone out even if it’s just one day late--but come on-- have a heart!” Adriatico said.

KPRC 2 reached out to the Wings 87′s landlord. No one has returned our calls yet.