More than 100 of the Seattle area’s best independently owned restaurants have joined forces to ask for help as the coronavirus closure appears likely to devastate the industry. With estimates from experts indicating that 75% of independent restaurants will not survive the COVID-19 crisis and that up to seven million people have lost jobs in the industry nationwide, the calls for action are growing urgent. Acting as Seattle Restaurants United, the brand-new local coalition has dispatched a plea to Congress and created the change.org petition “Seattle Restaurants United: Save Restaurants & Bars, Save the City” for supporters to sign.
As part of SRU, restaurateurs ranging from chef Sun Hong of the excellent eight-seat, lunch-only By Tae to Brian Canlis of the storied fine-dining establishment by the same name are calling for a number of specific measures (and both By Tae and Canlis are currently making takeout, by the way). They’re “urging city, state, and federal legislators to boldly protect our businesses and employees from destitution,” calling for rent abatement for both businesses and workers; an increase of unemployment insurance from 66% to 80%; the waiving of interest and principal payments on all Small Business Administration for 90 days; and the creation of a fund to provide relief on utility payments to allow capital to go to payroll.
While many Seattle restaurants continue to operate on a takeout and/or delivery basis after the mandatory citywide dining-in shutdown — find a list here — it’s nowhere near a sustainable business model as the COVID-19 pandemic protracts, with the majority of the industry’s workers left jobless. SRU member Uttam Mukherjee of the tiny but mighty (and doing delivery and takeout) Spice Waala points out that app-based delivery services take approximately a third of revenue, “So to expect restaurants to operate with all the same costs as before with much fewer customers is lunacy.” He says that many of the laid off are waiting for an overloaded unemployment system to process claims, and that then payments are inadequate. “Worst about all of this is that no one knows when this will end,” he notes. Loans or deferral of costs only lead to even greater financial strain, Mukherjee asserts. “Immediate relief is imperative to businesses seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says, “and, more importantly, employees maintaining their jobs or getting relief immediately.”
The SRU change.org petition notes that while the National Restaurant Association is lobbying for federal stimulus funds, members of that organization are largely chains, leaving locally owned restaurants that support our region’s small farmers and more unrepresented. “No one enters the service industry to get rich. We do it for love of food, love of craft, and love of you, the people…” the petition reads, “stretching thin margins for maximum community benefit.
“Please raise your voice to save our local restaurants and bars, and the many employed by them.”