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Small business crushed by COVID says it only has 10 days to come up with $17,000

The owner of Caffe Bella says she was working to pay the money back week by week when the realty company served her with a demand letter for the full amount

ATLANTA — A recent study found Black-owned businesses have been twice as likely to close during the pandemic.

Now, a West End coffee shop owner is fighting to keep her business open after learning she has 10 days to pay $17,000 in back rent or face eviction. 

She said she's poured her life into her business and won't give up

"My house blend is a Castellina which is a Ethiopian blend," Stephanie Thomas said. "People love that, it compliments the beignets."

Thomas lights up when she talks about the coffee she serves at Caffe Bella. Opening the coffee shop on the West End was her lifelong dream. 

"My world. I wanted to follow my passion," she said. 

Credit: Provided
Caffe Bella Atlanta

She quit corporate America to invest everything she had in Caffe Bella in 2018. 

"This is what I want to do, this is what I want to wake up to do," she said. "Most people, their dream is, I would do this and not get paid. I literally do this and not get paid. Everything I do, my heart and soul goes into this business."

She said they were slated to turn a profit for the first time this year when COVID-19 shut them down completely in March. 

"People stopped coming around. We had no revenue. We made $400 one month," she said. 

Since they were able to open back up, she said they've been trying to pay back the rent they missed when they were closed down. 

"We are trying to do the best that we can, we communicated with them that we can get back in good standing," she said. 

Credit: Provided
Caffe Bella Atlanta

She said they were not approved for the federal small business administration loan and had applied for the Invest Atlanta loan but were waiting to hear back when they received a demand letter from Venterra Realty, their landlord. 

The email said they needed to pay back the total amount of their back rent by Oct. 24 or they would be evicted. 

"Being asked on the fifteenth, you know, we need everything in 10 days, that was a slap in the face," she said. "It was very emotional for me to receive a demand letter without communication." 

She said they're trying to find an investor or get donations from an internet fundraiser to keep her business open until they can raise the money to pay the back rent. 

"We don't want to give up, we don't want to walk away," she said. 

11Alive was not able to reach Venterra Realty for comment. 

Stephanie says she'll work until the last minute the very end Caffe Bella.