Bellflower’s blossoming brunch spot, The Nest, is more than just a restaurant. From The Nest’s Instagram posts of aesthetically pleasing raspberry mint mojito iced coffees, to posts of appreciation dedicated to their most loyal regulars, the amount of love and community support for The Nest can still be felt through the socially-distanced new reality that the COVID-19 pandemic has created. The Nest’s savory and authentic dishes have attracted customers all throughout the L.A. area, and has continued to serve as a resource, outlet, and glimmer of hope for its local community even through difficult circumstances.
Throughout the country, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted small businesses immensely. In early March of 2020, data collected in a survey by the Chicago nonprofit Main Street America predicated that 7.5 million American small businesses would close by the fall of 2020. Although this projection proved to be an overestimate from a surface-level perspective, small businesses have still endured an uncertain and tumultuous timeline since the start of the pandemic.
In the city of Whittier, Mayor Vinatieri partnered with the Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business and Economic Recovery Taskforce to form a $500,000 Small Business Relief Fund to offer direct help to struggling small businesses faced with newfound financial burdens. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “Ninety-five percent of businesses are very small businesses with less than 50 employees, and these businesses employ one-third of California’s workers.” With such a large portion of Americans working for small businesses without the safety net that multimillion corporations possess, the image of courageous entrepreneurship that Americans value was now, more than ever, a toss up.
What makes The Nest so special, and perhaps what has helped them stay afloat through such turbulent times, is their unwavering commitment to serving and incorporating the community of Bellflower and local neighborhoods into their intentions, message, and overall purpose. The Nest’s owner, Antonio Cortez Appling, embodies this in how he leads the restaurant. Appling originally worked as an English teacher in Compton and Highland Park, and loved the environment that allowed him to work with students, but was also interested in breaking into the restaurant business. The Nest’s conception began when Appling convinced his college roommate-turned-business partner at San Francisco State University to move from San Francisco to Bellflower in hopes of creating a restaurant that was intrinsically different in nature then other gentrified pop-up restaurants that tend to exploit more than they offer. With minimal restaurant experience, challenges and overall difficulties emerged during Appling’s shift from education to running a small business. What persisted was Appling’s genuine passion for people and community.
Appling is welcoming and warm as he breaks down how The Nest has continued to stay engaged with the community by explaining the ‘four pillar concept’ that it centers around. The four pillar concept acts as the foundation for The Nest’s mission of taking care of people, which Appling says is the overall goal as a company. Appling continues by highlighting that “we want to be a place that’s known for our support for the community because we want to add value to the community, and not just take in a consumerist way, where we open our doors and just take money from the community but don’t give anything back.”
The difference between the presence of large corporations versus small businesses in a community is hard to ignore. The addition of larger, corporate-owned stores and restaurants linger while failing to add any intrinsic value to the greater community. In an article published from the Harvard Business Review titled “It’s Never Been More Important for Big Companies to Listen to Local Communities,” Sinziana Dorobantu and Dennis Flemming tackle the growing dissonance between large corporations and communities by stating that “[ . . . ] companies that spend months and millions tweaking operational details devote only a small fraction of their resources to understanding and addressing the social risks they face. The result is limited ability to recognize how their decisions affect — and are affected by — local problems and concerns.” Appling explains that there is no hierarchy to the pillar concept that values things like community support and trustworthy food, all equally. One value is just as important as the other.
Through various community partnerships with local organizations, The Nest has been able to provide meals to single-parent families in the Bellflower area. Additionally, The Nest actively tries to maintain a relationship with local high schools such as St. John Bosco High School and Bellflower High School. Upon high school graduation, the restaurant encourages the local high school graduating class to receive a free meal, as a way of showing support and recognition for their achievements during COVID-19. Appling says that the free meals for high school seniors was created as a way for The Nest to let the graduating members of the community know that they are heard, seen, and ultimately appreciated.
The Nest has also partnered with newly-elected Bellflower council member Victor Sanchez and L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn to produce a voucher program, in which people in the community can also receive free meals in exchange for vouchers. Through funding provided by Hahn’s office, nonprofits like the Community Family Guidance Center have purchased gift cards from local restaurants that can then be donated to families in need.
The Nest’s mission is not just empty mantras. The core values that have made The Nest so popular within the community of Bellflower extend to the staff as well. The Nest’s staff is 100 percent Latinx, and mainly women. Cultivating a space that is intended for the community run by people that actually reflect the community itself is not only rewarding to Appling, but is an integral part of why he set out to create this restaurant in the first place.
Working within the for-profit spectrum, Appling thinks it is crucial to still value what is at the heart of the community. Acknowledging that predominantly Latinx communities like Bellflower, Downey, and Whittier are highly marginalized, misrepresented, and appropriated, Appling continues explaining his perspective: “The Latinx community has been the primary demographic that supported us. For us, it’s second nature to want to be a place that services the people that are supporting you, but, at the same time, services people in the community that maybe aren’t being seen. It makes sense that those folks would be able to see themselves reflected in what we do.”
The Nest plans to expand and further solidify their love for the community by working towards opening a larger and more physically accessible location in Bellflower called The Nest:También. Appling describes The Nest:También as a love letter to the Latinx community that has overwhelmingly supported Appling’s restaurant. For Appling, The Nest:También is a chance for him and his team to create a new experience that people in the community can look forward to, a beacon of hope.
Planning to open a new location during the COVID-19 pandemic seemed daunting as Appling faced pushback from others in the restaurant industry doubting whether or not this could work. Although opening up The Nest:También was a risk, it was necessary for Appling to demonstrate that he was faithfully moving towards a project for the community that had supported him so much. Appling said, “We still want to pursue this project because people need to see hope; they still need to be able to see the silver-lining that exists past COVID.”
Working as a small business owner during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy. The interactions between customers and staff is felt on an energetic level. People are tired, stressed, and feel hopeless at times. As opposed to internalizing this energy, Appling reiterates that The Nest does not expect anything from customers, but rather tries to be consistent in what it can offer them. Appling explains that he is aware that customers might be financially stressed; some might be using their stimulus check to buy food from The Nest. Although times are rough, and it may be harder to love one another due to altered circumstances, he still finds a reason to seek out and provide community love and support.
The overarching message that The Nest has created and fostered is simply putting others first. The concepts and values that Appling effectively weaves throughout his business within his own leadership and guidance are often spiritual, stemming from Bible verses and Christian values. To Appling, working in the service industry and integrating concepts and ideologies founded on mutual respect, love, and community just make sense. What The Nest has illuminated, even during a pandemic, is that leading with compassion is a natural response when you inject love into your work and community.
On a final note, Appling remains appreciative of the support he has received at The Nest by ending with, “it’s just trying to be humble and recognizing that we’ve been loved, graced, and blessed so well that we want to be loving, gracious, and a blessing to the community.”
Featured Image: Courtesy of USA Restaurants