LETTER: ‘My business has been affected since day one’

Johnston deli owner says bustling pharmacy next door has hurt catering and sandwich business

Jeff Paquette / Deli Owner
Posted 1/6/22

I have a deep concern that many business owners in my community, as well as my customers, are encouraging me to seek your help for my current business. But first, I want to take this time to …

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LETTER: ‘My business has been affected since day one’

Johnston deli owner says bustling pharmacy next door has hurt catering and sandwich business


I have a deep concern that many business owners in my community, as well as my customers, are encouraging me to seek your help for my current business. But first, I want to take this time to personally thank you for all you have done, and continue to do, for the citizens of this state during this horrific crisis. From the very beginning of the first known case of the coronavirus in Rhode Island, you have recognized the urgency of this pandemic and you have faced every difficult challenge with passionate resolve. Your innovative leadership was met with extraordinary results for this state.

Although I have to bring you up-to-date , I will try to summarize the details.

My name is Jeff Paquette and when the pandemic first began, I was the owner of the Paquette Family Restaurant and Heaven on Earth Catering.

On Feb. 28, 2021, the first known coronavirus was confirmed that the vice-principal of St Raphael Academy tested positive. I have been caterer at the Academy for several years. Needless to say, my business has been affected since day one.

My business was beginning to grow successfully until the coronavirus heavily impacted financially both my catering business and eventually my restaurant because it is a well-known fact in this community that I am the caterer to St Raphael Academy. Customers slowly began to cancel catering parties and events at the restaurant, and both schools that I cater to daily were closed. I made every effort to try to diffuse the panic by assuring my customers that I was doing everything I could possibly do to create a safe and healthy environment by taking every necessary precaution of keeping every square inch of my restaurant sanitized.

I never imagined having to go through something like this. I knew that the restaurant industry has always been among the most competitive and challenging to navigate. I knew that the statistical risks against any new business were high and that I would have to dedicate my life into the business in order for it to be successful. And of course, let’s not forget how brutal our New England winters can be and of the great risk factors of operating a business here in New England because of our unpredictable climate). But Covid-19 has surprised all of us in the food industry. I know that you have been on the front line battling for small businesses and I am grateful.

Unfortunately, although my restaurant survived the first blow of this pandemic, it did not survive the worker shortage and we had to sell the business last summer. I thought that opening up a deli while continuing my catering business was the answer. I never knew that I would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire and how the state of Rhode Island would turn their back on a small business as mine.

In the last ten days, I have lost thousands of dollars due to this problem which I will now explain that the state of Rhode Island has created which has been brutal to my business. My health has been extremely affected by all of this because I am so worried that after making it through a shut-down, labor shortage, I may still lose!

As you are well aware, beginning on Monday, Dec. 20, our state began promoting and offering Covid vaccinations to walk-ins. The adjoining business in my building, a pharmacy, moved in shortly after I did.

The lot has been at full capacity since Monday morning because Covid-19 vaccinations that are now being offered at the pharmacy, scheduled and walk-ins, along with Covid testing through a very small drive thru window on the side of the building.

On the busiest two weeks of the year for my catering business, my customers can’t get into the lot to pick up their food and I can’t get out of the lot to deliver it without delays. This has also produced a risk factor — especially to pedestrians. We have witnessed vehicles racing through the parking lot trying to get a parking space, motorists speaking on their cell phones while trying to finagle their vehicles in and out of tight parking spaces, vehicles exiting through the entrance driveway and vice versa on the exit driveway. Reinhart Foods have refused to deliver here because of the risk. In the event of an emergency, there is no way to enter into the lot.

I have photos and videos to back up these statements including one of an accident, and a video of a Sysco trailer that was making a delivery, had to back out from behind the building to the front of the building with the assistance of a Johnston police officer and myself, and many more that were taken through my security cameras.

Although my landlord is the former owner of the deli, she refuses to provide a level of safety for visitors, as well as my employees and myself, in the parking lot. She feels it is not her problem. The pharmacy is now making enough of revenue to hire someone to ensure the safety of everyone, as well as to keep available spaces for my business to continue which is now in financial jeopardy.

After I brought this problem to the attention of the mayor, the town of Johnston scheduled a three day intervention with two traffic officers last week on Thursday and Friday from 10-2, and one officer today from 10-12.

I have been working around the clock to keep my business as strong as possible due to the disruption by this unprecedented crisis' of the coronavirus pandemic. I have been on the local news because of my outreach program of feeding many in the poor communities of South Providence during this Pandemic.

Rhode Island Monthly recognized my efforts with a 2020 Philanthropist award but now I need financial help due to a situation that I have no control of. At this moment I have no customers because there are no parking spaces. There must be some kind of financial assistance for a situation such as this that I have not created. Unless I get some financial assistance, I will lose my business. All across America, citizens are so fed up with seeing small businesses lose the shirt off their backs. When I closed my restaurant, I had 20,000 views in the Go Local and my FB page was flooded with messages of love and empathy. I hope the state of Rhode Island will not turn their back on me and my customers and local businesses are in complete support of me.

They have encouraged me saying that if anyone can help you — it’s Senator Jack Reed!


Jeff Paquette

Johnston business owner and East Providence resident

Editor’s Note: Paquette sent this letter, dated Jan. 3, to his “close friend and Senator” Jack Reed. “I know how important testing and vaccines are but let’s not forget this is my staff’s livelihood as well as my own,” Paquette said when submitting the letter.

Submit Letters to the Editor by emailing them to Johnston Sun Rise Editor Rory Schuler, rorys@rhodybeat.com.


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