Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Struggling with costs, Sabang’s closes

Owner of Wheaton Indonesian restaurant says decision follows increases in rent, utilities, food prices

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Sabang’s Indonesian Restaurant, a longtime Wheaton eatery, closed for good last week, said owner Victor Lantang, citing skyrocketing operating costs.

Lantang said he had been thinking about selling the Ennalls Avenue business for some time and more seriously in the last couple of months.

‘‘I have been there almost 19 years, but I have do to what I have to do because it didn’t make sense being there so long and losing money every day just being open,” Lantang said.

Lantang said increases in rent, utilities and the prices of food made it difficult to make a profit. Even business brought in through the restaurant’s weekly jazz nights didn’t generate enough income, he said.

He also said the recent departure of the Blockbuster Video next door led to reduced foot-traffic and contributed to the loss of business.

Lantang said he sold his business to another owner who wants to open a Salvadoran⁄Mexican restaurant.

Longtime customers of Sabang’s said they would miss the unique and affordable items on its brunch and lunch menus.

‘‘I’m devastated because that was one of my favorite restaurants,” said Marian Fryer, president of the Wheaton Citizens Coalition. ‘‘With such an international flavor here with restaurants, it’s really sad to lose one, especially Sabang’s because he was here almost 19 years.”

Joe Callaway, chief of operations for the Wheaton Urban District, said he enjoyed Sabang’s and that Lantang always welcomed county meetings or community events.

‘‘He was really part of the community,” Callaway said.

A few businesses have closed in the last several months in downtown Wheaton, including Barnaby’s Sports Pub and Restaurant on University Boulevard, which was in the community since 1973.

Natalie Cantor, director of the Mid-County Regional Services Center, said that while Sabang’s will be missed, she did not think the closings would be a pattern for other small businesses.

‘‘I don’t see it as a Wheaton issue. [The restaurant business is] a difficult business,” she said.

Manuel Hidalgo, executive director of Latino Economic Development Corp., pointed out that several Asian restaurants in the area were still operating, including Hollywood East Café on University Boulevard, Woomi Restaurant on Hickerson Drive and several Thai restaurants.

‘‘There are still a lot of locally owned shops and restaurants and that is the most important thing,” he said.

Tim Wiens, the president of the Wheaton & Kensington Chamber of Commerce, said the rising cost of utilities is affecting businesses and nonprofits throughout the area. However, he noted, the chamber is hearing more about the rising cost of real estate and rent in Wheaton, especially as the county discusses and makes plans for redevelopment.

Wiens said the chamber offers several options for businesses to receive assistance in the form of consultation or loans through the Maryland Small Business Development Center in the Westfield South building in Wheaton, and the SCORE program, a nonprofit that specifically counsels startup and existing small businesses.

Filippo Leo, owner of Marchone’s Italian Deli in downtown Wheaton, a business that has weathered the ups and downs for more than 50 years, understands the pressures small business owners such as Lantang face. Leo said he’s seen a 70 percent increase in utilities at his business over the past year.

‘‘You can only pass so much onto the customers, but how much can you sell a sub or anything?” he said.

Lantang said he would take the holidays off to consider his plans. He would like to open another Sabang’s restaurant, but was unsure if it would be in Wheaton. He also said he felt badly about selling the business without giving customers much warning.

‘‘I would like to apologize to all my customers and say thank you so much, and I appreciate them for all those years they [supported] me.”

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