MONTCLAIR, NJ - A notable Montclair restaurant owner became stranded in a foreign country amid the coronavirus pandemic. He has returned to a statewide lockdown and now struggles to keep his business afloat while also helping others at the same time.
Ilson Goncalves, owner of Samba Montclair, a local Brazilian Restaurant, set off on a culinary expedition in March. His plan was to take cooking classes and expand his repertoire. En route to Vietnam by way of South Korea and Manila, Goncalves found himself in quite a predicament.
His stay in Cambodia was pleasant for the few days he was there. He arrived for cooking classes on March 13th. It took 6 hours in the airport where his temperature was taken and he was questioned fastidiously about the stops he made along the way, whether he had been exposed to coronavirus, and more, but eventually he made it to his hotel.
He enjoyed the experience and was packed up to return home a few days later, when at 3 a.m. the hotel where he was staying got shut down.
“I woke up and saw a paper under my door, I thought it was for checkout but it said I couldn’t leave.” He said it was terrifying. “The hotel was locked from the outside by the police. The hotel was surrounded at 9 a.m.”
Goncalves said by 11:00 a.m., doctors had gone to every room and taken both blood and saliva from each of the guests.
“They said someone at the hotel had been exposed.” It would be three days before the results came back, but Goncalves said he was mistrusting of government.
He laughed, “I come from a socialist country you know.” His mind raced, wondering if he was going to be allowed to come back to the United States where his staff was running the business without him.
Goncalves recounted that guests at the hotel were irate. “The girl at the front desk was doing the best she could. She hadn’t slept for 3 days.” If anyone were to come back positive they would have to quarantine for 14 days. He realizes now that if that happened the borders would have closed and he would not be back here today, a month and a half later.”
“I was very uncomfortable. It was the most uncomfortable thing that happened to me. Today it’s fine, I can tell the story… but then…”
However, despite his fear, he realizes that their measures were effective. He referenced an article stating Vietnam has had not one single death. He laughed again, but this time at the way he was let back into the United States. No questions asked except, “How long were you out of the country?”
Goncalves came back believing he could be a carrier of the virus, so despite the government of the United States making no requests of him, he quarantined for 14 days. By the time he was back to the restaurant business the government ordered a shutdown. His earnings are down by 80%. He has applied for loans, but they have not come through.
He suffers from asthma and is afraid. According to Goncalves, a friend of his, a local man, age 28, went to Mountainside for allergies and asthma. He was tested for Covid-19 and told he was negative but later tested positive. He was of the many who became severely ill. His 28-year-old friend died.
Goncalves said, “I didn’t believe it - I had to go to his Facebook page over and over.”
When asked how long Samba Restaurant can survive like this, he said, “Two months.” And to the question of whether government loans could save him he replied, “Even if I get the loans, I will have to pay them back.”
Goncalves continues to offer delivery and pickup services. Today he disinfects the restaurant every two hours with Clorox. He works with only one other person and they have been quarantined for weeks. He will not allow anyone else into the restaurant. They cook with a mask and gloves.
Tapinto wanted to know his opinion about government reopening for the purpose of the economy and saving small businesses. “No! You need a cure or a vaccine.” He added, “...because if the government opens the door tomorrow, even I would feel uncomfortable as an owner, how would I feel if someone comes to eat and gets sick, or my staff gets sick? I would feel so guilty!” He lowered his eyes and added, “I wish government was more responsible.”
“This isn’t the time to fight, it’s the time to help the people. Government should invest in science. This is the time to open our eyes and see who the heroes are.”
Luckily his spirit of positivity remains. Today Samba made a total of eighty-two dollars, but they continue to clean, cook, and every Wednesday they donate 50 dinners to Toni’s Kitchen.
For more information, visit Samba Montclair.