Fuego has been a no-brainer for Mobilians when it comes to making dinner plans over the last 13 years. With heavy hearts, we must say goodbye to this cherished local restaurant that has been drastically impacted by the pandemic.
The pandemic is hurting small businesses
It’s no question that the pandemic has drastically (and in most cases negatively) affected small, local businesses. Robert Tomberlin, Owner of Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery, says that the restaurant industry in the post-pandemic era is like a completely different playing field.
“Everything post-pandemic has changed. Even though we’re getting back to some normalcy, it’s still not the same. Pre-pandemic we were staffed, packed and everybody was going out and doing very well.”Robert Tomberlin, Owner
Since the pandemic, there’s been an large increase in the cost of living, food costs and gas prices that effect the ability of locals to go out to eat as often as they once did. Many people are choosing to eat take-out rather than dine in for their health.
Not only has this reduced the amount of patronage that local restaurants recieve, but it’s changed the way locals look for food. The team at Fuego is just as affected by this as other establishments.
“After the pandemic, the sit-down restaurants—for the most part—started dying. Everything is converting to cantina-style restaurants… when you’ve had your feet established for 13 years, that’s not a cheap or easy fix.”Robert Tomberline, Owner
In addition to reduced patronage, many restaurants find themselves understaffed. Before the pandemic, Tomberlin was receiving anywhere from 10-20 applications a week. Now, he’s lucky to get one application a month.
For Tomberlin, being understaffed makes running the establishment it’s own mountain to overcome, even when business is booming.
“When we did our post [about potentially closing] on Facebook, we got an outpour of support. It was the busiest week we’ve had since pre-pandemic. It was an awesome week. But then, when the business came in, we were still not staffed well enough to handle it. At the end of the week, me and the staff, we were dead on our feet.”Robert Tomberlin, Owner
For the past two years, the community has kept Fuego running through support, love and—of course—their business. Tomberlin, and his team, are endlessly thankful to the Mobile community for giving them the oppurtunity to serve Mobile for as long as they have.
“During the lockdown, we had a lot of support from customers that helped us keep our doors open. We appreciate every penny that everybody spent. It meant the world to us. It helped give us another week. During the pandemic… we were living day-to-day.”Robert Tomberlin, Owner
When reflecting on his favorite moments during Fuego’s 13 wonderful years serving the community, Tomberlin touched on many things from the Taco Takedown to having the largest tequila bar in the state of Alabama. Yet, at the root of all of it was the appreciation for individuals within the community.
“The biggest thing is just meeting people. That’s just it: getting involved in the community. We’ve done a few charities and we’ve done a few things with donations. Community involvement is probably some of the greater memories. Taco takedown was a blast… just because I got to get around, meet everybody and I wasn’t stuck in my office at that point.”Robert Tomberlin, Owner
The Fuego’s website states, “Come as strangers, leave as friends.” It’s a motto that the team at Fuego truly embraces. As Tomberlin explains, the most difficult part of closing Fuego’s doors is the people he is thankful for.
“We have people who come here everyday—and I mean every day. So, honestly, if it weren’t for the staff and the great customers, I wouldn’t have a problem with shutting down. But that’s the hard part—knowing how much customers love you. We have some of the best customers in Mobile. They’re amazing.”Robert Tomberlin, Owner
This week (April 3rd-9th, 2022) is likely the final week Fuego will be serving the community that adores it. An official closing date is not yet set.
For Tomberlin, the future is uncertain. But, one thing is for sure—he will undoubtedly miss Fuego, it’s fantastic customers and it’s amazing staff.
If you love Fuego as much as we do, we know you’re looking for some way you can help. For now, the best way to show your support is to offer your business in their last week and to share the news as much as possible.
- Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery
- Where: 2066 Old Shell Rd. Mobile, AL, 36607
- Hours: Closed Sunday & Monday | Tuesday-Thursday 11AM-9PM | Friday 11AM-10PM | Saturday 1PM-9PM
- Contact: (251) 378-8619
- Website | Facebook
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