The future of Bombers Burritos remains uncertain as the restaurant nears its eighth week of a closure that was supposed to be temporary.
“I have no reason to feel optimistic about it,” Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig said Thursday. “I’m very disappointed. I think that the restaurant should have been able to be successful.”
In 2016, the project was awarded more than $300,000 in a Community Development Block Grant, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal, according to Herzig.
Herzig said the city will be “aggressive” in recouping its investment in the business should Hewitt decide not to reopen.
“The money was for the purpose of creating jobs,” Herzig said. “A restaurant is an ideal environment for creating a large number of jobs for people who are lower-income.”
The Main Street restaurant closed unexpectedly Dec. 22, and its Facebook page listed the establishment as permanently closed in the days following.
Restaurant owner John Hewitt told The Daily Star on Dec. 23 that he planned to reopen the restaurant in five or six weeks after “taking time to reorganize ourselves both operationally and administratively, and to obtain a cash injection.”
Herzig said he was “very disappointed” with the announcement.
“The owner said he had a very good summer and that business actually exceeded expectations,” Herzig said. “In the fall and winter, business dropped off drastically. There wasn’t that much foot traffic on Main Street on winter evenings, and he was expecting to get a higher number of students coming in.”
Hewitt has not been in contact with the city since shortly after the closure, Herzig said.
“The last time we spoke with him, he indicated that he was trying to redo his finance plan and that he needed to come with additional funds, either through a partner or an investor, and he had hoped to be able to open at the end of February,” Herzig said. “The best-case scenario is that he does reopen, but he hasn’t given me any reason to think that he will.”
A permanent closure would present an unfortunate situation for the restaurant’s employees, Herzig said, likening the situation to the sudden closure of Friendly’s in April, which left several employees out of a job with no notice.
“I imagine that restaurant owners don’t like to give their employees adequate notice because they’re afraid that they’ll leave and they won’t be able to operate,” Herzig said. “I don’t think that’s the appropriate way to treat the employees. I don’t think anybody should run a business that way.”
Hewitt also received a $50,000 loan from the city but agreed to a lien on the mortgage, Herzig said, so if the building is sold, the city will be able to recoup its losses.
Herzig said Hewitt has until the end of the month to contact the city before plans are made to recover the investments.
“At this point, we’re waiting on him,” Herzig said.
Hewitt did not return several requests for comment.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213.