Chefs, Restaurant Owners Seek Help Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Chefs, Restaurant Owners Seek Help Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
Chef Naomi Pomeroy was forced to close her restaurant indefinitely. Now, she's working alongside others to lobby for help.

It's more than a job — it's a labor of love. 

"It was obviously, probably the hardest day of my life, telling 20 people that I love and care about and have been working, some of them for many, many years, that there were no jobs left for them, at least temporarily," chef Naomi Pomeroy said.

Forced to indefinitely close her restaurant and cocktail bar in Portland, Oregon, award-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy is doing what she can to stay afloat.

"I mean, we are digging in right now to our cash reserves to do things like pay rent, and I'm paying my health care for my employees right now. I feel very lucky to be able to do that, but I can probably only afford to do that for a month before I just don't have any more money left," Pomeroy said.

The economic impact of COVID-19 hits the restaurant industry especially hard because businesses are already operating with low profit margins.

"Any person that went to business school would probably say, like, oh you should shut your restaurant down right now, it's not profitable enough, you know, we aren't in the business of high profits. Some of the most famous restaurants in the world are almost break-even operations," Pomeroy said. 

Now, Pomeroy is using her time to advocate for federal help.

"We bailed out Wall Street during the 2008 recession. I think it's really important for us to think about what we value as a nation and that we need to really think about how we can bail out Main Street," Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy and dozens more chefs and restaurant owners from across the country are joining forces by way of the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition.

The hope is the federal stimulus package and its provisions will give the restaurant industry a much-needed cash injection through income-replacement programs and relief for small business loans. 

Chef Steven Satterfield said: "So it allows us to have a little bit of liquidity and to be able to operate again, like right now we're all at this moment where our bank accounts are teetering. We didn't really have money to order food, we don't have money to keep the lights on or to pay our rent, and restaurants operate on such tight margins that we really do rely on the sales that we make every week to pay the bills the following week."

The adverse economic effect extends far beyond the restaurants.

"There's so many different aspects to the food system. So if we stop ordering, that means the delivery drivers don't have enough, the importers aren't ordering wine anymore, and the farmers have all this food they're growing and no place to take it. So it's just one of those things where it impacts so many people. We really wanted the Senate to understand just what impact it is for restaurants to close their doors. It doesn't just affect us," Satterfield said.

The National Restaurant Association is also lobbying Congress for relief with a proposed plan, stressing that COVID-19 is the greatest crisis the industry has ever encountered.

Businesses of all sizes can agree: The sooner workers and customers return to restaurants, the better off we'll all be.