There have been 100,000 new coronavirus infections for seven days straight. There is a total of more than 10 million cases in the United States since the start of the pandemic. With rising numbers comes more restrictions. Many restaurant owners fear they might not survive another shutdown.
According to the National Restaurant Association, one in six restaurants and foodservice outlets in the United States have closed since the pandemic began earlier this year. Some restaurants have managed to persevere despite the challenges faced during the pandemic.
Claudio Coronas has owned and operated D.O.C Wine Bar in Brooklyn, New York, since 2002. Coronas says he has never experienced anything like this before.
“I don’t sleep anymore. This pandemic really stresses. It’s very stressful when you don’t know the future, tomorrow – what’s going to happen – my landlord, rent, it’s very stressful. After September 11th, everyone left Brooklyn, but the past six months was really scary – no tourist, everything closed, a lot of homelessness, unsafe. It was anarchy. I felt very scared not just for COVID but all situations,” expressed Coronas.
Coronas says that making adjustments allowed him to survive during the first shutdown, but it wasn’t easy. Some days he was working alone.
“Some employees didn’t want to come back because unemployment was higher than the tip. I was working by myself sometimes. It’s like being in a war you have to adjust to survive.”
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress on March 27. The bill aims to provide emergency assistance and health care to individuals, families, and businesses. Despite the help, some restaurant owners have not had the same luck as Coronas.
Dimitri Voutsinas opened Otaku Katsu, a Japanese restaurant, in September 2019, and closed in September of this year because of the economic and social climate.
“It was a mass exodus, and there were no customers left,” said Voutsinas.
Voutsinas says he received two loans, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program loan (PPP). The loans kept him afloat for a little, but it wasn’t enough to keep his business open, and now he’s stuck paying the loans back.
Winter is nearing, and public health experts say December and January will be the worst months the United States has seen so far in the pandemic. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio and city health officials discuss whether or not to impose new restrictions.
“God forbid this continued, and we had a full-blown second wave,” de Blasio said. “It means a lot more restrictions. Unfortunately, it could mean even having to shut down parts of our economy again.”
Another shutdown could be detrimental to restaurants.
“If there is another shutdown, it’s going to be a disaster. Even with outdoor dining, that’s still not enough. Some won’t survive another shutdown,” said Voutsinas.
Things are uncertain in the restaurant industry right now, but the love and optimism for the industry remain. Coronas believes that there is room for innovation in the industry.
“People have to think different things. It’s not traditional restaurants anymore. Customers are ready to understand that there is a different way to dine. The restaurant has to be ready to stay online and sell its product. It’s going to change a lot,” expressed Coronas.
Alan Roth, a long-time restaurant consultant in Miami Beach, says that innovation and thinking outside of the box are the only way restaurants will survive and succeed.
There are grants available for restaurants and small businesses. The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund distributed $4.68 million to 312 recipients. Grants are a temporary relief that cannot replicate a self-sustaining industry. No one can tell what a post-pandemic environment will be like, so restaurants should take precautions when taking out loans.