85% Of Independent Restaurants At Risk; Jax Owners Urge Support Of RESTAURANTS Act

Aug 6, 2020

A new forecast projects as many as one in three U.S. restaurants may close permanently this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This would further decimate an industry that directly employs 15.6 million, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

Given this dire situation, there’s a new national movement aimed at saving as many independent restaurants around the country as possible. 

It’s called #SaveRestaurants. The group behind it, the Independent Restaurant Coalition, says 85% of independent restaurants are at risk of closing permanently.

Earlier this week, the group released a new ad, voiced by actor Morgan Freeman

The group is asking customers to contact Congress and urge their legislators to pass the RESTAURANTS Act of 2020, which stands for “the real economic support that acknowledges unique restaurant assistance needed to survive."

The legislation would set up a $120 billion dollar fund geared toward assisting small restaurants and bars impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Allison D’Aurizio, the co-owner of 1748 Bakehouse in Springfield, spoke about her situation, and why she supports the effort on Thursday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

D’Aurizio explained that when the pandemic first started, 1784 Bakehouse closed its dining room, like all Florida restaurants. She has since reopened, but with a limited capacity of about 50%. 

She has also tried some other things, including to-go family meals, and a bodega. “We brought in some of our grocery items because Springfield is a bit of a food desert and we felt that it was important to help the farmers who were at the height of their produce season, so we had local partners and other local products,” D’Aurizio said of the effects on her supply chain.

However, D’Aurizio said her business is still down about 30% across the board, which is the national average.

Laura Jarvis, co-owner of Cool Moose Cafe in Riverside, also appeared on First Coast Connect, and said that her restaurant followed similar protocols/. 

“We shut down, she said. “We did take out and curbside, then went to 50% capacity inside and really stressed outside eating just to follow the CDC guidelines. And also while we were doing that we did family meals.” 

Both restaurants have faced layoffs but recognize that staying open is a success.

“That’s not the case for most restaurants. They’re not even sustaining. They’re not even open. Some of them that are, are not even breaking even at this point,” Jarvis said.

D’Aurizio explained how the relief provided by the act would aid independent restaurants

“This specific act is solely for the independent restaurant who does not have savings in their coffers, like some of those bigger organizations and businesses,” she said, adding that more than 70% of the restaurants report that they have at least $50,000 in debt. “That debt is directly correlated and connected to their farmers, their fisherman, their bakers, and that debt that they're sitting in right now needs some help. So this fund would go directly towards helping get them in a much more financial stable place.”

D’Aurizio doesn’t see the legislation as a bailout. “It will put money back into communities. It will put money back into the farms and the producers immediately... there's a staggering statistic that says 90% of all income that comes through a local restaurant stays in the community.”

Jarvis concurred, citing the unique nature of the restaurant industry, in which it is common, even in “normal” times, to pay this week’s bills with last week’s revenue.

They said while it’s important for customers to support their favorite neighborhood eateries however they can, in a manner they are comfortable with, it’s also important for them to support the RESTAURANT Act by filling out this form

“Takeout is not enough,” said D’Aurizio. “And we would love to get back to normal. I think everybody is in agreement. Boy, wouldn't we all love to go back six months, but it's not gonna happen, not for some time."

Additional RESTAURANT Act Information: House Bill | Senate Bill

Katherine Hobbs can be reached at newsteam@wjct.org or on Twitter at @KatherineGHobbs.

Heather Schatz can be reached at hschatz@wjct.org or on Twitter at @heatherschatz.