“We were joking that April was the longest year of our life…”
It’s funny because it’s true. Shila Morris, president and co-owner of Squeeze In recalled the early days of the pandemic when businesses were being forced to close.
“The first two weeks in March the pandemic was gaining ground and we didn’t know up from down, left from right,” Morris said.
Morris and her sister, Kay Salerno, are co-owners of Squeeze In. They found that they’d need to serve 47 meals a day at the Reno and Truckee locations to stay open. They took to social media asking their network for support.
“For the most part people rallied behind that number and wanted to be part of it, they were calling and asking what our number was at for the day and if they could help us get to 47,” Morris said.
The Truckee location is home to the first Squeeze In of the franchise and was also the hardest hit location financially, as it’s in the smallest community. Morris says her family and staff fought to the death to keep it open and agree that closing the OG location is not on the table. Unfortunately, the Redwood City location was forced to close completely.
Early on the sisters pleaded with their landlords to work out rent negotiations while protecting their staff’s hours and finding ways to serve their communities. “Feed the Local Need” became their positive contribution during the pandemic and they offered their guests the chance to sponsor a hot meal for a healthcare worker. Squeeze In partnered with local hospitals for the effort and served workers in Truckee, Northwest and South Reno, Sparks and Carson City.
“We sponsored almost 500 meals, which was a huge deal for us. We were able to serve them 50 meals at a time, two days a week. For four to five weeks we brought food to the hospitals. It was so amazing to see the camaraderie, it gave our people such a sense of pride to package these lunches and our community felt like they were rallying around healthcare workers,” Morris said.
When an email from the Town of Truckee introduced the Resilience Fund small business loan designed to help local companies grow their businesses with financial and coaching support, Morris jumped at the opportunity.
“I saw that and was like, ‘oh heck yeah we need all the help we can get.’ The disaster loans are not very attractive, there’s a lot of paperwork and it took a long time to apply. We never heard anything, there was no movement. PPP didn’t come through for us, it has now, but it only as of 10 days ago,” she said.
Morris said the Resilience Fund loan was a no-brainer because it has attractive terms and it was established by locals for locals – something they’re all about at Squeeze In.
“We’re a local family, born and raised, and we want to keep it local. Seeing that our community was doing something to help the local businesses was really empowering – a ray of hope when everything was a ‘no’ or a door slammed in our face. These are people who care about this community being better, doing better, growing and flourishing. To participate in something like this with terms that are incredibly attractive, in a setting that helps you use resources for growth, it’s a no-brainer,” Morris said.
The Resilience Fund loan moved quickly, her representatives were friendly and she felt good about its terms. The money was used to purchase a large stage from an events company that has gone out of business, so they can now offer a large outdoor seating area in Truckee and continue growing to accommodate social distance for their guests.
“If you’re looking to expand why wouldn’t you work with the Resilience Fund? These are people who know your business, your community, your neighbors. They know the ins and outs – it’s something we would absolutely consider using further and would definitely recommend,” Morris said.
She joked that their place is lovingly named “Squeeze In” for its tight floor-plan – all the more reason to continuously implement new ways to make things touchless and to keep practicing social distance. Morris’ new message to guests is that their delight and enjoyment can no longer be the top priority at Squeeze In, their health and safety is.
“We love Truckee-Tahoe, we adore being part of the community. The fact that people call our restaurant an institution is so humbling and something we cherish. Truckee is such a magical place with a beautiful community and strong vibrant culture. We are so grateful to the Resilience Fund and so grateful to continue to be part of this community in a creative way during this unprecedented time,” Morris said.