Pennsylvania's first Venezuelan restaurant fights to stay open after 16 years

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Many say when you support a small business, you're supporting a dream.

In this time of crisis amid COVID-19, that support could determine whether they make it to the other side.

That's the case for a Venezuelan restaurant in Spring Garden, where a husband and wife are fighting to save everything they've worked for.
Sazon has been in Spring Garden since 2004, a Philadelphia pioneer for authentic, homemade Venezuelan food.

Every day the couple behind it is working, pivoting and reinventing everything they've built to stay right where they are.

"There was no Venezuelan food around at all," said Judy Suzarra-Campbell.

Her husband, Robert Campbell said, "We are the first traditional Venezuelan restaurant in the history of Pennsylvania. We're proud that we are the first."

The recipes for Sazon originated from Judy Campbell's childhood.

"I guess cooking is in my blood," said Campbell. "It's just all over me."

The pandemic is proving fatal for small businesses too.

"We had to adapt, and quickly. We're not ready to die," said Campbell. "Adapt or die, that was our motto."

They started doing takeout and delivery. "I am really contact-less, doing bike deliveries the entire time," said Robert Campbell.

They also added outdoor seating to the restaurant. But Judy Campbell says they are taking it a week at a time.

"We are living from week to week. Are we going to make it this week? Are we going to make it next week?" said Campbell. "I don't know, we just keep plugging along."

Open for 16 years on Spring Garden Street, Judy and Robert vow to keep fighting.

"We haven't closed at all," said Robert Campbell. "We pay our employees more than we pay ourselves right now, of course, because we're just trying to keep the restaurant going. We're trying to keep them fed."

Right now, Judy's most popular dish is her brand new fish empanadas.

"You feel like you're on the coast of Venezuela eating this thing, it's incredible," said Robert Campbell.

Robert is known as a chocolate alchemist. "I sold more chocolate during the pandemic than I probably sold the past three years," he said.

They post their outdoor dining schedule and menus on Instagram.

Robert and Judy Campbell plan to join Action News live Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. Instagram, directly after our FYI Philly Ice Cream Social right here on 6abc.
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