10232021 Revolution Cantina

A sign for Revolution Cantina, a restaurant located in Claremont’s Opera House Square, remains high above the front doors of the eatery on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

Update: The Eagle Times wishes to clarify that Sheree Kochis was unable to be reached for comment by phone due to a technical glitch in which the message left via voicemail was never received.

CLAREMONT — Former patrons of Revolution Cantina, a wildly popular restaurant in downtown Claremont, received a sobering message of finality this week that the restaurant is likely closed for good, barring an unforeseen purchase by new ownership.

A new real estate listing, posted online by the New England Real Estate Network, shows the Opera House Square restaurant is for sale, with a list price of $395,000.

The restaurant officially closed on Friday, Aug. 20, which owners Shane Bodkins and Isabel Guillen attributed to the restaurant’s ongoing staffing problems and operational challenges.

Bodkins and Guillen initially hoped this closure would only be temporary. In August, the couple — who currently reside in Florida — told the Eagle Times they “fully intend to reopen,” hopefully around mid- to late-October, when the couple would have time to focus on a relaunch.

In a follow-up interview on Friday, Bodkins and Guillen explained that they no longer believe it is feasible to own and run a restaurant from such a long distance.

“We are grateful to the Claremont community for their years of support, and to our past and former employees for keeping the restaurant running,” Guillen told the Eagle Times. “But making it work would require us to be there.”

The couple opened Revolution Cantina — a destination for Mexican, Cuban, and South American cuisine — eight years ago in downtown Claremont, across the square from their former restaurant New Socials. When Bodkins and Guillen moved to Florida in 2016, the couple retained ownership of Cantina, hiring Sheree Kochis to locally manage it.

But the long-distance ownership proved arduous upon arrival of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant experienced a number of challenges, from the state-mandated shutdown, a flood that further delayed the restaurant’s reopening, staff shortages and even a small fire. In addition to keeping Revolution Cantina afloat, Bodkins and Guillen had started a new business in Florida.

The staffing issues in particular drove the decision to close the restaurant, as well as the decision to sell the property, according to Bodkins and Guillen.

During the recent summer Bodkins and Guillen lost key kitchen staff and struggled to fill the vacancies. The restaurant, short-staffed, frequently had to reduce its days of operation to three days or less per week.

The couple said they compensated their staff for the days the restaurant could not open, though the waitstaff in particular felt underpaid by the couple’s offered rate of $10 per hour, which was significantly less than what the waitstaff could make in tips.

“We have nowhere to pull the money from,” Guillen said.

Bodkins and Guillen had received a federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan, which had helped compensate staff, the couple said, but that money has been expended.

When open, the restaurant “was bringing in more dollars than we were doing in the past,” due to the high volume of patrons, according to Guillen. However, when only open three days or less per week, the cost of payroll and other operating expenses greatly exceeded the revenue.

Immediately after closing Cantina in August, Bodkins and Guillen found themselves facing a slew of blame and attacks on social media pages, especially from employees, who alleged the owners failed to fairly compensate staff and were not sufficiently present or responsive to the restaurant’s needs.

Bodkins said he finds the allegations of non-payment particularly egregious.

“Contrary to what some people have posted, everyone was paid what we owed them,” Bodkins said.

But Bodkins and Guillen would agree with the need to be locally present at their restaurant, which is why they decided to sell.

“Not being on the premises or living locally, you don’t see what is happening day to day or week to week,” Guillen said. “When you start hearing about issues, it takes a while for it to hit you.”

The long-distance dynamic also seemed to impact the professional relationship between the owners and their manager Kochis. Bodkins and Guillen said they felt Kochis’ attention leaned more toward the staff’s concerns than Bodkin’s and Guillen’s expectations.

Guillen said the couple share blame in the management issues because they had not made visits to Claremont for a long period. Even when employing a manager, business owners need to be closely involved in the operation.

“Nobody is going to take care of your business the way that you want them to,” Guillen said.

In their decision to sell the restaurant, Bodkins and Guillen said they expected the recent problems to reoccur if the couple is not more local.

A new owner could potentially revive Revolution Cantina, Bodkins said. The couple is willing to sell the trademark and recipes and provide the needed training. The current sale price includes the restaurant equipment, the majority of which is in “like new condition,” according to the listing.

Bodkins and Guillen said they offered to sell the restaurant to Kochis two years ago but Kochis declined.

“Owning a restaurant is a daunting task,” Guillen said. “There’s a lot of risk involved.”

The Eagle Times attempted to contact Kochis but was unsuccessful in time of publication.

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