In light of a new restaurant stabilization bill, which would consist of a $120 billion grant program called the Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive Act, or simply, the Restaurants Act., well known chef Rick Bayless is urging voters to champion the cause and help get the bill passed.
The Restaurants Act is designed independent restaurants cope with long-term challenges facing the industry due to COVID-19, and would provide grants to cover the difference between revenues from 2019 and projected revenues for 2020. “We’re not looking for a handout,” Bayless says. “We’re just asking for people everywhere to recognize us for who we are and what we contribute to Illinois communities. Let your legislators know that when they’re voting on the restaurant stimulus bill that you think we’re too important to let fail.”
The James Beard Foundation announced its 2020 Media Award winners online this year. Although the annual in-person gala was cancelled due to COVID-19, the Foundation recognizes the positive impact that the James Beard Foundation Awards can have on the careers of winners in the book publishing, broadcast media, and journalism. Among this year’s highlights, Josh Niland’s book The Whole Fish Cookbook: New Ways to Cook, Eat and Think won both Book of the Year and in the Restaurant and Professional category. In broadcast media, chef Roy Choi won Outstanding Personality/Host for his socially conscious video series Broken Bread, and Pati Jinich won in the Television Show in Studio or Fixed Location category for the second year in a row with her TV series Pati’s Mexican Table – A Local’s Tour of Culiacán.
In 2020, ninety-eight bankruptcies were filed by companies with at least $50 million in liabilities year-to-date, the highest bankruptcy rate since 2009. The U.S. arm of Le Pain Quotidien bakery-cafes filed for bankruptcy in Delaware, intending to sell itself for $3 million. The Chapter 11 petition lets Le Pain Quotidien rework debts and execute a sale, with court approval, to Aurify Brands LLC. In late March, the chain closed all of its U.S. locations, and according to chief restructuring officer Steven Flemin, if it wasn’t for the sale, Le Pain Quotidien would have to liquidate its 98 U.S. stores.
Another corporation, FoodFirst Global Restaurants, parent company of the Brio Italian Mediterranean and Bravo Fresh Italian restaurant chains, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April. According to the company, 71 of its 92 restaurants temporarily closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ruby Tuesday, while not filing for bankruptcy, has also reportedly shuttered nearly 150 restaurants since January 2020. As states encourage restaurants to reopen, the pace and volume of sales will determine if those locations remain closed permanently. TGI Fridays has also announced that it will permanently close many of its locations, as the chain suffers its own sales declines related to COVID-19. Toward the start of the crisis, TGI Fridays sales fell quickly, by roughly 80 percent, according to CEO Ray Blanchette. Revenue somewhat recovered after the transition to pickup and delivery. However, revenue is still down about 50%. Most likely, up to 20% of TFI Fridays 386 U.S. locations will be forced to permanently close, according to Blanchette. .
More than 10 weeks after being closed, restaurants in Los Angeles County have been permitted to open up again. Many are rushing to reopen as soon as possible to generate revenue and avoid closing permanently. Chef-owner Josiah Citrin said he will reopen Charcoal Venice partly because the money he received from the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan is almost gone.
However, while some restaurateurs struggle to reopen safely, many say they will not reopen yet because it’s too soon. Reconfiguring dining rooms, regrouping furloughed employees, and implementing new safety protocols has left them with more questions than answers. “It’s irresponsible of the county to drop this on everyone and not have concise guidelines on how we are supposed to keep everyone safe,” said Ari Kolender, chef and co-owner of Found Oyster in East Hollywood.
Some chefs says it’s also too soon for guests to feel comfortable and safe in restaurants. “I can’t talk my wife into going out to eat, no way,” said Jon Shook, who owns several acclaimed L.A. restaurants, including Animal and Son of a Gun, with Vinny Dotolo. “Vinny and me have been out on the front lines, so to speak, bringing meals to people in need, but even I can’t say I’m going to feel 100% safe and comfortable sitting down to eat with my mask off.”
Social distancing requirements have prompted many cities to close public roads and allow both residents and restaurants to use the streets for business and recreation. In Washington D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced last week that the city will permit restaurants to set up tables in public streets and parking spaces and on sidewalks after filling out a simple application. The city also plans to close some streets to ease pedestrian travel.
Authorities in Oakland, California, have also been closing some streets to through-traffic. “The streets are 25 to 30 percent of any city’s land,” said Ryan Russo, Oakland’s director of transportation. “We need to manage the public realm in a way that meets people’s needs in this moment and in the future.” Similarly, in Tampa, Florida, Mayor Jane Castor has advocated for a “Lift Up Local” campaign that would permit restaurants to set up tables in certain public streets.
Minneapolis protestors took to the streets last week to demand justice for George Floyd, a local black man unlawfully killed while in custody by police last week. In cities around the country, Mr. Floyd’s death has sparked similar protests, many of which have resulted in violent clashes between police, civilians, and journalists. In Minneapolis, rioting has continued for nearly a week straight, damaging several popular restaurants, including Addis Ababa, Gandhi Mahal and El Nuevo Rodeo. Restaurateurs are already facing steep financial losses due to forced closures during the pandemic, but some believe strongly that even the total loss of their business pales in comparison to the value of racial justice. Ruhel Islam, the owner of Gandhi Mahal, said “let my building burn.” In a Facebook post, Islam’s daughter Hafsa wrote, “We won’t loose hope though, I am so grateful for our neighbors who did their best to stand guard and protect Gandhi Mahal, Youre efforts won’t go unrecognized. Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover.” She added, “As I am sitting next to my dad watching the news, I hear him say on the phone; ‘let my building burn, Justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.’ Gandhi Mahal may have felt the flames last night, but our firey drive to help protect and stand with our community will never die! Peace be with everyone. #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd #BLM.”
For more on how restaurants around the country have supported the BlackLivesMatter movement, see Nation’s Restaurant News here, or see Restaurant Hospitality here, or Food & Winehere.
According to Eater, more than 30 states have reopened their dining rooms with a patchwork of guidance from state leaders and federal organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Most recommendations includes operating at reduced capacity, providing at least six feet between tables, wearing face masks, and frequent sanitizing and hand-washing. Robyn Gershon, occupational and environmental health and safety researcher and clinical professor of epidemiology at New York University, points to five key ways that restaurants can reduce risk of COVID-19 for diners: minimizing highly trafficked surfaces, eliminating shared condiments and utensils, improving sanitation, improving shared air supply, and minimizing both staff and diner interactions. For diners, Gershon recommends reducing risk by choosing outside seating, wearing a face mask, maintain a safe distance from other diners, sanitizing surfaces when in doubt, frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face, and asking for disposable utensils and single-use condiments.