Egg Prices Tripling, DTLA Offices Emptying. Why A Beloved Breakfast Burrito Joint Is Shutting Down
For the better part of the year, I’ve been traveling to different parts of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas to track down Cheap Fast Eats.
But after scrolling through Instagram this past week, I was hit with some bad news — BurritoBreak, the small, women-owned breakfast burrito joint in the historic St. Vincent Court area of the Jewelry District (featured as part of our downtown L.A. edition) is closing its doors for good on Friday, May 26.
In the Instagram post, owner Claudia Barrera told customers:
"Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons the business can’t continue to operate — scarcity of ingredients has caused prices to skyrocket and relief does not appear to be in the horizon — it has taken a toll, and we have made the difficult decision to close our doors."
“I feel like a failure,” Barrera told me as we trudged up 6th Street.
Best seller: 'skinny breakfast burritos'
Barrera opened her business in 2019 with the help of her mother, Carolina, and her aunt, MaryLou. At the time, the three of them were making their signature “skinny breakfast burritos,” perfect for on-the-go consumption, which is what made them unique among the bulbous two-handed affairs that are commonplace in the world of breakfast burritos.
Barrera was originally born in Southern California, and then moved back to Mexico before returning to the Inland Empire for high school. She received her undergraduate degree in business, with an emphasis in finance, from Cal State Los Angeles.
She got the idea for BurritoBreak after being inspired by the vendors who sold small burritos out of coolers along the road she saw while growing up in northern Mexico. Using her her mother’s recipes, Barrera decided to apply the same concept to the streets of downtown L.A., eventually expanding to two locations, one on 7th Street and Figueroa another in front of the downtown Los Angeles Public Library.
“The first couple of months, we learned a lot. And then, after a while, we became pretty successful selling a lot of burritos,” Barrera said.
So successful, in fact, that they attracted of droves of hungry downtown L.A. workers who lined up on their lunch breaks.
Brick-and-mortar expansion, then COVID hits
After a year of selling the now-popular product, they decided to move into their first brick-and-mortar location, a small cafe space a little further away in the Jewelry District.
Barrera signed the lease for the space in February 2020, but then the pandemic hit — and everything changed.
Downtown became a ghost town during that period of lockdown. “So many office people that would come to downtown L.A., they never came back. Maybe like 20% or 30% of them. And if they do come, they only come on Thursdays or Fridays.”
So many office people that would come to downtown L.A., they never came back. Maybe like 20% or 30% of them. And if they do come, they only come on Thursdays or Fridays.
Added to those challenges was the fact the Jewelry District isn’t known for being a culinary destination, and more resembles the sights and sounds of the 2019 film Uncut Gems.
“People are not that accepting of what we were. So we really had to look for our customers outside of the Jewelry District,” Barrera said.
BurritoBreak began relying heavily on Instagram posts and other outside organizations such as Regarding Her Food, a national nonprofit that helps support women-owned food businesses.
The final blow: rising costs
The final blow was the rising costs of food such as eggs and potatoes, along with other materials, like paper bags, napkins and plastic utensils.
Barrera mentions the cost of eggs specifically, which this year almost tripled in price.
“At BurritoBreak, we want to have fresh eggs that are cracked every day. And so it was super expensive and they wouldn't go down.”
Barrera recalled earlier this year the price for a case of eggs shot up to $60. Normally, she would buy two to three cases at time, which is approximately 150 eggs. Barrera said that this was more expensive than she had ever seen before. It soon went up to $80, then to $100, then to $112.
“That honestly was really hard on us. I'm selling like a $3 burrito that I just barely increased to $4," said Barrera.
The combination of the high-cost staples, materials and the vanishing foot traffic became too much for the little burrito shop to bear. By the end of it, Barrera said, she wasn’t even paying herself, instead putting all the money back into the business to keep it afloat.
When she announced the closure of the brick-and-mortar business on Instagram last week, Barrera said she would be “prioritizing self-care” after the long hours, back-breaking work and unrelenting stress and uncertainty.
“You do it because you believe in the business and you believe in the model and the customers come in and they're so happy. You could do that for a certain time, but I don't know how far I can do that for,” Barrera told me.
The emotional toll
That mix of emotions Barrera is feeling is echoed through her close-knit network of her mother and aunt, and sister, Laura, who was also instrumental in the early days of BurritoBreak.
When she told them that she was going to close, they said she shouldn't — they’d weather the storm to make it work. But for Barrera it came down to prioritizing their quality of life and not simply continue making sacrifices to keep the doors open.
They all believed in me and they all supported me like a 100%. I do feel really sad.
“They all believed in me and they all supported me like a 100%. I do feel really sad. So yeah, it’s definitely been challenging,” Barrera says.
Customer Mychael Castillo had heard about the closure on Instagram and came to pay his respects. He works in homeless services nearby.
“It's kinda like a food truck. They do a few things and they do it really well. The breakfast burritos are a perfect size. It's hard to see a small operation close up in a big city. I walk around the neighborhood, I see another chain restaurant coming in,” he said.
“Then here on St. Vincent Court, it’s such an interesting hidden gem. Every place here is kind of a gem. So having them closed just seems like one gem taken out of the whole jewelry shop.”
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