"The good old days when you just opened a restaurant and had a successful business by having good food and service are gone," An said. "Now you have to really work at it and adapt to what the location wants. Certain neighborhoods are still struggling."
Jorge Arroyo, 49, had been through this before -- losing his job in the worst economy since the Great Depression. The forklift operator was laid off in 2008, and was out of work for a year. Unable to pay his bills, he got some relief when his nephew moved into his Miami home and helped pay the bills.
Then came a job offer at a warehouse, and three years worth of steady paychecks. Like the economy, Arroyo's personal finances were on the upswing. Until the economy failed him again, and Arroyo lost his second job in four years.
"It looks like the economy is getting a little bit better, but I don't see it," Arroyo said from his seat before a computer at a state-funded employment center in northwest Miami.
Next to him was a spiral notebook, with the details of seven jobs he had applied for that day. There are three pages of entries already, and Arroyo had room for just one more before having to turn yet another page in his hunt.
"There are so many people applying for everything," he said, looking up from the screen, one of 15 occupied in the center at 79th Street and Northwest 27th Avenue.
The center's director, Delphine Brown, said candidates like Arroyo face a much less discouraging landscape than they did in the depths of the recession.
"The last few years have been the hardest in my 19 years," said Brown, who started working at job centers in the early 1990s. "There's been so much uncertainty. The companies were in fear."
Now, the job postings are higher that at any time since the recession started. And it's not just the old stand-bys of tourism, retail and healthcare. "We're even seeing construction jobs picking up," she said. "That's exciting."
The recession was rough on the Cavalier Hotel, and so was the recovery. But owner Ralph Abravaya remains optimistic.
He thought the worst was behind him after buying the 46-room Ocean Drive hotel in 2002, when the industry was reeling in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But court records show he's in a fight with lenders now. August brought a bankruptcy filing for the Cavalier, thanks to an overdue mortgage taken out on the cusp of the recession.
In filings, Abravaya said the hotel makes enough to continue mortgage payments on the $6.5 million loan secured in the middle of 2007. But the lender, BPD, said the hotel wasn't worth enough to refinance the debt when the loan came due in 2010 -- a time when Abravaya was struggling to pay the bills.
"In order to protect ourselves, we had to go into Chapter 11, even though we've never missed a mortgage payment," Abravaya said. "We're still making mortgage payments. It's a technical default."
In 2009, revenues dropped about 20 percent. Abravaya slashed rates to $79 per night at a hotel just a few steps away from the sand of South Beach. And he beefed up staffing at the hotel's restaurant, the Cavalier Crab Shack, in hopes extra money from drinks and seafood would fill the revenue gaps each month.
It worked, and by the end of 2010, revenues were climbing again.Abravaya described 2011 as "the boom year." In October, the Cavalier posted its 57th straight sold-out weekend. "Thank God we survived," Abravaya said.
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