Uncertain future of empty restaurants along Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway

Almost every industry has been affected by the pandemic in some way, but hotels and restaurants along the Thimphu and Phuentsholing highway have been forced to close or are empty without customers since Phuentsholing falls under high risk area and people are not allowed to stop on the way for meals. Many restaurants are closed and some are opened but without a customer.

Meanwhile, one of the restaurant owners has shut down her business permanently and moved to Thimphu to start her restaurant in the capital after the pandemic affected her business.

48-year-old Sonam Chokey had been running her restaurant for two years between Phuentsholing and Gedu. But as soon as the pandemic hit her business, the situation has been so bad that she planned shut it down since all her customers were travelers.

“Since Phuentsholing is under red zone, the movement is restricted and even those who travel don’t stop by since they are not allowed to stop,” she said.

She said that it was very difficult to even earn Nu 100 a day and she faced difficulty in paying staff salary and the rent.

“Before the pandemic, we use to earn around Nu 35,000 to Nu 60,000 a month and it was enough to pay for all the expenses,” she said.

She said that keeping up with basic operational expenses was a struggle as there were barely any customers. 

 “If you go there and see the restaurant is empty. Expenses on things like water, electricity, food and wages for the staff are mandatory and we can’t avoid them. We have been using our savings to pay for these things. If you take a round in the area, you will find that several restaurants on this road are closed or it’s empty,” she said, adding that she had to lay off her staff since there was no business.

Currently Sonam is running her restaurant in Thimphu after shutting down her restaurant in Thimphu-Phuentsholing Highway.

She said that it has been a month since she moved to Thimphu after facing loss and currently her business is going well.

“It was a good move since the restaurant here is running well. At least I can manage to pay my daily expenses and the house rent,” she said.

She added that she will continue her business in Thimphu here after.

Another restaurant owner in Wangkha said that there are barely any customers to keep their restaurant’s lights on.

“It has been empty since the outbreak of COVID-19 started in the country. The situation became even worse when the Phuentsholing was marked as a red zone. We did not have any option rather than closing it,” he said.

 “We are hoping that the situation will come back to normal and we will be able to run our business as usual like before otherwise we will have to shut down the business permanently,” he said.

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