Aaron Verzosa. Courtesy photo.
When Aaron Verzosa and his wife opened Archipelago, a gourmet Filipino American restaurant in the Hillman City neighborhood of Seattle, they took out a loan and a financial risk.
Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic exploded into the world, forcing small businesses and restaurants into survival mode.
Verzosa recently joined other small business owners and asked the state parliament to introduce more progressive taxes.
Verzosa was inspired in part by Archipelago’s experience weathering the COVID-19 storm and also appeared in an ad calling for progressive taxation to run in select legislative counties.
Washington State has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. People on low incomes pay a far higher proportion of their income than taxes than wealthy people.
Legislators in Olympia are considering bills to introduce new progressive taxes, including a property tax (HB 1465), a tax on big profits and capital gains (HB 1496), to fund aid to small business, public health and early childhood education.
Verzosa believes taxes like these would have far-reaching positive effects on the small business landscape and the lives of workers and entrepreneurs.
Verzosa and his wife, both Filipino Americans, founded Archipelago because they wanted to bring their culture to the world of good food.
The pandemic coincided with the birth of their first son, and the couple live in a multi-generational household. It was a difficult time, but they were determined to keep their restaurant open.
They were faced with the question of how to convert a gourmet restaurant for eight people into a safe takeout.
Then they had to figure out how to not only survive financially in the moment, but also keep paying the business loan they had taken out to open the restaurant.
Archipelago was able to keep all of its staff, but finding funding to spend and steering the help of the various levels of local government was a challenge.
While the transition to a take-out model worked, the restaurant’s income has dropped to no more than 30 percent of its previous income, Verzosa said. And bridging the time between now and the time people are vaccinated enough to dine indoors seems like a challenge.
The types of grants available for restaurants during the pandemic lagged behind needs, Verzosa said. “A lot of them feel like they could be bandaids, a one-for-all situation,” he said. “If we had the state-level means to really close the gap between now and restaurants that are open, it would be much better.”
Verzosa believes that a more progressive tax system should have been in place years ago so that companies could have emergency funds to help them survive in times like these.
“If there had been reforms,” he continued, “many of the companies you are now barely attached to might have had the ability to have more resources.”
More financial relief for restaurants – grants or tax breaks – would also put money back into the entire food system, he said, as the archipelago and other restaurants source their ingredients from local farmers, butchers, and other small businesses in the northwest.
Using progressive taxes to build social safety nets and fund early childhood education would also be of great help to many restaurant workers who are parents.
Ultimately, this would help the various communities in Seattle thrive and the gastronomy become more diverse, Verzosa said. The diverse, often family-run businesses in Seattle are a huge contributor to local culture and attract visitors and people who move here, Verzosa said.
“If you end up working on really building diversity in a city that, because of this rich culture, gives you a really great feeling of wanting to come here,” said Verzosa, “it’s only fair to make sure that we keep building can and have the means to do it. ”