Times are tough for small business owners.
And they just got tougher for Bean and Leaf Café owner Heather Elkins.
Just this week the owner of the café – who worked there 19 years ago when it first opened and purchased it from the previous owner seven years ago – posted an Internet fundraiser to help offset the costs of an investigation by the California Board of Equalization that she shorted her taxes.
But according to Elkins, it wasn’t that she was pocketing the money.
“They hit me on things like hot food – if I toasted your bagel and you took it to-go then I had to charge taxes on that,” said a frustrated Elkins. “They said that if you got your coffee in a to-go cup and you enjoyed it in the store or outside then I had to charge tax on that.
“It’s gotten to the point now that my accountant has said to just charge taxes on everything because you don’t want to get hit with anything else.”
Elkins – who said that she has seen her morning and lunch business dwindle in recent months, especially after East Union High School switched to a block schedule – has had to lay off several employees in her tenure as the owner despite the fact her customers are often dedicated and loyal. Even though a Starbucks with a drive-thru opened in the same center several years ago, Elkins said she wasn’t inherently worried about what the coffee juggernaut – she also had to contend with the nearby Raley’s selling coffee in their bakery for years.
But the climate of business changed drastically in the seven years since Elkins took ownership of the store. She weathered the economic recession that followed in the wake of the housing market collapse that hit the Central Valley especially hard.
“Doing this has always been a dream for me and right now my fiancé and I are putting in a lot of hours ourselves to get things back up and running,” Elkins said. “We’re still looking to possibly a location in Downtown Modesto, but you can only do so much.
“Getting this notice after they did a three-year audit on the business is going to be tough – there are so many things that we need to upgrade and work on. I’ll find out soon how much the bill is going to be, but I’m sure it’s going to be a couple of thousand of dollars at least.”
Those wishing to support Elkins’ cause can visit www.gofundme.com and search for Bean and Leaf Café Manteca. The money that is generated will be used to pay the debt doled out by the Board of Equalization and what is left over will go to purchase things like a new ice machine, a new blender and possibly a revamped floor space to change the audience and alter the access to the shop’s bathroom, which is currently only accessible by going behind the counter.
“It’s frustrating because I asked the old owner’s accountant on whether what I was doing in business practice was okay, and he hold me – ‘yeah, it’s fine,’” Elkins said. “You just don’t expect something like that to end up coming back to you. It’s time to get things in order so we keep serving our loyal customers.”