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Restaurant owner worried about bills, DACA status says shutting down amid coronavirus was 'really hard' but necessary

Zaid Consuegra Sauza opened the restaurant six months ago.

After opening six months ago, Zaid Consuegra Sauza's plant-based restaurant appeared to be heading toward a successful future in Kansas City, Missouri -- a town known for its barbecue.

It's now been two weeks since Consuegra Sauza's Pirate's Bone Burgers restaurant closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Its staff of 10 people are without jobs as Consuegra Sauza himself faces uncertainty. He's unsure how he'll pay his bills, whether he'll be able to keep the budding business open after mitigation orders are lifted and if he'll be able to get his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status renewed later this year.

"Making the decision to close the doors … and have that conversation with employees was really hard for me. I honestly didn't want to have it," Consuegra Sauza told "Nightline." "I went ahead, though, and I got the courage to talk to them beforehand and told them what I was thinking and what we would most likely end up doing."

Consuegra Sauza said he'd been "keeping an eye" on COVID-19 since before it reached Kansas City and that he'd mentioned the possibility of dealing with it to his business partners the week before closing. That same week, he realized that taking certain measures to minimize customer contact with items in the store wouldn't be enough.

"So I had another meeting and I said, 'Hey, listen, this is not going to work. I can guarantee you that we will not be able to be sufficient in how we're doing business right now if this extends more than the weekend,'" Consuegra Sauza said.

When the restaurant closed on March 16, Consuegra Sauza said he and his business partner rounded up all the food they still had and divided it equally among to-go bags for the employees. He said the food and "goodie bags" from a company that makes hand sanitizers and soaps was all they could provide for the employees.

"Just trying to do the best that we could," he said, acknowledging his employees would also be hurt by the restaurant closing. "For the time being, we know that we couldn't pay employees sick days. We're such a new company that without us closing down, we would most likely just not been able to handle the hit or the impact of this virus."

Consuegra Sauza said he and one of his business partners had put all of their money into the restaurant, so much so that there were times during the seven months they spent renovating the space that they had to live off a few dollars a day, often eating from food pantries.

The restaurant has a mission, he said: "Feeding more plants to more people and also having a safe space for everyone in the community." To carry out this mission, plates were no more than $5 each in an effort to attract people who might be food insecure. Menus were translated into multiple languages so that everyone felt included. And the entire establishment complied with guidelines under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pirate's Bone Burgers is Consuegra Sauza's fifth venture and the result of years of working different jobs in the food service industry.

"Most of these ventures were because of necessity," he said. "They weren't a luxury of mine or they weren't an actual realistic thing that I chose to do because I loved it. It was a necessity that I needed to do in order to keep living."

Before closing the restaurant, Consuegra Sauza said he could envision the restaurant making a profit in the near future based on its performance in the first three months. Now, he says he "hopes" it'll survive.

"I don't think we have enough in the bank to really hold us over for too long," he said. "You know, we were just starting up, so everything went back into it."

Consuegra Sauza said he is unsure if he will qualify for one of the stimulus checks being sent out in April as part of the federal aid package to relieve Americans of the economic strain from COVID-19. He will likely have to apply for a small business loan, he said.

While Consuegra Sauza said he's fortunate to "live for free" in a house owned by his brother, he said there are other bills he's worried about right now, such as his car loan, for which he said his payments have just been paused.

He said both the electricity and water at his restaurant were at risk of being shut off before the city decided not to disconnect service due to COVID-19. There's also the rent for the restaurant.

"We've been told that rent is paused and we won't have to pay it right now," he said. "But we will have to pay it no matter what. Whether we use it or not, we are going to have to pay the rent."

Consuegra Sauza, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 11 years old, is also trying to square away his DACA status, which he said must be renewed by November. He said that with the offices closed, applications aren't moving forward.

"We are going to prepare them and hope to send them as soon as their offices open back up, but there is an issue with that," Consuegra Sauza said. "Everyone is going to send their applications as soon as their offices are back up and running. So there's gonna be a lot of back up involved in this. So a lot of the people might not make it."

"It's going to be really hard if I don't get my DACA renewed," he added. "I will be facing the thought of deportation after November."

While he knew it'd be safer for everyone to close the restaurant, Consuegra Sauza said his DACA status also played a role in that decision.

"As an undocumented person, I know that I don't have ... health insurance. Therefore, it's really hard for me and I have to be very careful of what I do and how I do it," he said. "Do I want to take that risk of getting ill and not being able to afford it, or even consider going to a hospital or a doctor?"

Nevertheless, he thinks he made the right decision despite the losses he will take. People's lives, he said, are more important.

"Lives are 100% more valuable than any coin or measurement of money that we have. … And if it means my business going under, then so be it. But my main concern are lives. … I'd rather keep the thoughts, memories and relationships that I've made over the years, and what I've stood for, than put anyone at risk."

ABC News' Juju Chang, Marjorie McAfee and Zoe Lake contributed to this report.

This report was featured in the Thursday, May 21, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.