Restaurant owners: Small biz program not enough to save industry

Operators, chefs argue for separate aid package

Tom Colicchio, head judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef” reality series and a restaurant owner, says the industry needs a separate aid package to save more than 11 million jobs.  (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Tom Colicchio, head judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef” reality series and a restaurant owner, says the industry needs a separate aid package to save more than 11 million jobs. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:06pm

Independent restaurant owners say the small-business loan program Congress created to protect jobs won’t be enough to save their industry from the coronavirus pandemic.

With many restaurants unlikely to reopen anytime soon, owners say the two-month loans available through the Paycheck Protection Program would do them little good.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition, which represents 500,000 restaurants, called for longer-term relief.

“Most restaurateurs I talk to, they don’t believe they’ll survive this,” said Tom Colicchio, a renowned chef and lead judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef” series. “We need to save this industry. PPP is not going to do it,” he said, referring to the Paycheck Protection Program that is part of the latest economic relief package enacted last month.

Colicchio and other chefs told reporters in a conference call Thursday that any new loans should come with a date of origin coinciding with when it’s safe for a restaurant to reopen, not the date that a loan was made. “My restaurant will not be open in two months,” he said.

Naomi Pomeroy, who runs a small restaurant in Portland, Oregon, said she had to lay off all 15 of her employees last month and may only operate at 50 percent capacity when she can reopen. “No one expects restaurants to open in the next eight weeks,” she said.

The Paycheck Protection Program, funded with $350 billion, stopped making new loans Thursday after running out of money. The Trump administration has asked for an additional $251 billion for the program, which is now caught in a partisan standoff in Congress.

“I applied, and I still haven’t heard back,” Pomeroy said. “A lot of people missed that first round of funding.”

Only one in five restaurant owners in cities shut down by the coronavirus is confident of ever being able to reopen, according to a survey this month of 1,400 owners by the Independent Restaurant Coalition and the James Beard Foundation. And nearly six in 10 said they could survive no more than a month of a shutdown.

“If we can’t get a fix for PPP, then we should talk about a separate [relief] package for restaurants,” Colicchio said. “What we’re talking about is saving 11 million jobs.”

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