After struggling with financial stress created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chapel Hill restaurant Bandido’s started a GoFundMe campaign last month to supplement its lull in foot traffic.
The Mexican cafe has been a part of the Chapel Hill community for almost 26 years. Founded by Tony Sustaita along with his wife, the two Atlanta natives visited the Triangle and said they fell in love with the area.
To donate to Bandido's, visit the restaurant's GoFundMe.
“On a whim, within a few months, I was living here,” Sustaita said. “We cashed everything we had and opened Bandido’s.”
The restaurant grew and soon the Sustaitas opened more locations, including one location in Hillsborough and a food truck. But, the pandemic hit the business hard — forcing Sustaita to close the Hillsborough location and discontinue the food truck's operations.
Bandido's only remaining location is its Chapel Hill store on Franklin Street. Sustaita said at the beginning of the pandemic, the restaurant employed 34 people, but is now operating with just six employees.
Looking for support
Their goal is to raise $25,000, enough to support the restaurant for about three months, at which point Sustaita hopes the situation will have improved.
“For any restaurant to last 25 years in Chapel Hill is an accomplishment, so asking for help through the GoFundMe was sort of a matter of a personal feeling of failure,” Sustaita said. “But, listening to the advice of some customers, I took a deep breath and said ‘okay, let’s do this.’”
The GoFundMe has so far raised over $3,000, and donations dropped off in-person totaled about $2,000.
Aidan Paul, a senior at UNC, was born in the Triangle area and said he loves Bandido's for three reasons.
“I have a lot of childhood memories of it, the excellent bottomless margaritas and the third is El Gigante,” he said.
El Gigante is a Bandido’s specialty, a 4.5 pound burrito described by Sustaita as the size of a Sunday newspaper. If someone manages to finish the entire thing in under two hours, they are honored with a special t-shirt and recognition on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Paul and his friend Andrew King, a UNC graduate, decided to have an El Gigante face-off where they both ordered the burrito and competed to see who would finish first. In the days leading up to the contest, both looked up competitive eating guides and trash-talked each other.
The record time for finishing the burrito is nine minutes, with the average at an hour and a half. King did it in 12.
“I was completely blown out of the water and ever since we’ve wanted to do a rematch. If they close, it will never happen,” Paul said.
For them, this memory is just one more reason they want Bandido’s to stick around.
“I have a lot of good memories drinking lots of pitchers of margaritas there,” King said. “I’d like to do that again and I'll be supporting the Bandido’s fundraiser in every capacity I can.”
Sustaita is grateful for all those who have donated so far, as well as to the business’s landlord and creditors who have been understanding during these times. He said he is optimistic about the future.
“We see the light at the end of the tunnel, with the vaccine and the change in the administration, we just need a little help to reach that light," he said.
Sustaita said he already has plans on how he will thank the restaurant’s supporters.
“I tell these people when they donate: when we make it, and we will, this is true, I'm gonna have a huge thank you party and invite those contributors, big and small,” he said. “Just a special dinner thanking them.”
People can visit Bandido's GoFundMe page to donate.