Jason Nascimento, 31, knew other local Portuguese restaurants had come and gone when he opened Portugalia in Ocean Beach five years ago.
"They only marketed to local Portuguese," says Nascimento. "We market to everyone." Yet, he says business has been tough. "I've had to hawk everything I own. I had to bring in a partner.... If I want to compete, I have to have [a liquor license]." Portugalia is permitted to sell only beer and wine.
Nascimento says hosting music six nights a week has helped him keep his doors open and meet his $26,000 in monthly costs.
"I used to lose $20,000 to $30,000 a month; now it's down to $5000 to $8000 a month. Music is helping us get out of the hole."
Entertainment at Portugalia includes a Tuesday open-mike night, reggae music on Wednesday, jazz on Sunday, and local bands on Thursday through Saturday. Musicians get paid from tips or if there is a cover charge.
"The bands generally understand," says Nascimento, "but sometimes they see people here and they want a guarantee. I can't do that; I don't make thousands at the bar."
Nascimento laments that he's required to pay monthly fees to BMI and ASCAP, music-publishing clearinghouses that collect performance royalties on behalf of songwriters.
"I have to pay, like, $400 a month to them," says Nascimento, who notes that Winstons, a couple of blocks away, is thriving because of its liquor license and live music. "But I have to pay the same fees to BMI and ASCAP as they do."
One Winstons employee says Portugalia should be happy.
"We are 21 and up. Portugalia is a restaurant. I wish Winstons could be all ages like Portugalia.... There are laws and regulations we all have to abide by, and paying ASCAP is one of those."
Nascimento says he will soon make his formal application for a liquor license.