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Zombiez has been hit by drop in business, unexpected costs

October 16, 2013 · Updated 4:24 PM
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Zombiez owners, struggling with financial strain, offer islanders fast, slow food in their colorful restaurant downtown. / Sarah Low/Staff Photo

By SARAH LOW
Staff Writer

After only a year in business, Zombiez has fallen on hard financial times, and the owners are cutting back the restaurant’s hours and looking to the community to help keep its doors open.

The burger joint, billed as a “fast, slow food diner” by its owners, is beginning its sophomore year with an uncertain future. Corlean Payne, who owns the restaurant with her husband Jim Hassell, explained that the business recently took several unexpected financial blows.

“We’ve had unexpected equipment issues, then two managers left suddenly, which meant we needed more staff on to help train someone else, and there was a much more dramatic drop-off in business heading in to the fall than we were expecting,” she said. “It’s like a perfect storm of financial strain.”

Now, the couple is looking to raise up to $10,000 on the crowd-funding website CrowdTilt to help bridge their financial gap.

Unlike KickStarter, a crowd-funding site for new businesses or ventures only, CrowdTilt is open to any business or fundraiser and will not charge donors until a set minimum goal has been reached.

Zombiez set its minimum goal — the amount it must raise by the end of the month — at $3,000 and its target goal at $10,000. As of Monday, the fundraiser had brought in $2,445 in donations.

Payne and Hassell opened the colorful beach- and zombie-themed eatery in the space that formerly housed Zoomies Burgers and Ice Cream last year, citing a desire to create a family friendly atmosphere and menu.

Since then, the two say, they have worked hard to make the restaurant a going concern, offering fresh food made with local ingredients, expanding their gluten-free and vegan offerings, continuing to refurbish the place themselves and even reopening the drive-through after people complained that the passenger-side drive-up window had closed.

“It’s backwards, but that’s the county.” Payne said. “King County won’t allow cars to back up on to the main road, which they would if they drove in the usual way. So they have to come in from the back.”

They’ve also attempted to cut costs. Family members have been helping with decorating and remodeling; the iPads they use for taking orders and payments were all donated by friends and family, and the couple is buying much of their ingredients themselves now, since they discovered that going through a buyer increased their costs significantly.

“We buy everything locally that we can,” Payne said. “Part of our plan has always been that our food is all fresh, local, and made by us by hand. We could certainly save money on ingredients, but we don’t want to give up that vision.”

The couple used every resource they had to open the restaurant last year, Payne said, and though they didn’t take on debt, they are now in a position where they cannot pay all of their current bills. Payne said that other businesses in the community have been supportive and are giving them time to settle their bills.

“The Roasterie, Palouse Winery and Wagons of Steel have all been very patient with us and really great to work with,” she said.

Now, the business owners plan to cut back on the restaurant’s hours, something Payne said will also enable the family to spend more time in the community. Beginning this weekend, Zombiez will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Monday and close Tuesday through Thursday. They may add some private dinners during those times to bring in revenue.

“Jim is a classically trained chef,” Payne said. “That closed time will give him the opportunity to use those skills more extensively for private or business functions and fundraisers.”

Payne said she and her husband were feeling hopeful about the CrowdTilt fundraiser, stressing that they didn’t want to resort to laying off employees.

“It’s week-to-week right now,” she said. “The employees know, and after our kids, they are our priority. We want to make sure they can work and get paid.”

Whatever the outcome of the fundraiser, Payne insisted that they would find a way to keep the restaurant open.

“We have three kids, we have employees, we have to keep going,” Payne said. “We are resourceful and we’ll do what we can.”

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