Restaurants struggling to survive amid COVID
But owner says some problems government-inflicted
IT’S A DIFFICULT situation — keeping a business open while balancing public health regulations to keep surging coronavirus cases at bay.
Doug Bacon, owner of eight Boston restaurants through the Red Paint Hospitality Group, where he is president, and Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber of Commerce, joined The Codcast to discuss the perfect storm that has left thousands of restaurants across the state floundering or shuttering.
Four of Bacon’s restaurants have reopened successfully, while another two had to be shut down after reopening temporarily but not getting enough foot traffic.
Bacon’s restaurants, which include the White Horse Tavern, Hopewell Bar and Kitchen, the Westland, and the Corner Tavern, had 196 pre-COVID employees, some who had worked for him for over a decade. After layoffs, he is down to about 45.
Reibman’s organization meets weekly with restaurant owners — who make up a large chunk of the chamber’s members — to hear their concerns and offer support.
“It’s just heartbreaking. We have these men and women who have invested their lives in their careers in building these businesses and the restaurant business has never been easy,” he said. “Margins have never been good and suddenly they’ve been asked to, you know, pivot so many times in the past nine months.”
From closure to take-out and curbside pick-up and outdoor dining, and then indoor seating with strong restrictions, the carousel hasn’t stopped turning for restaurant owners. Cold weather and customers wanting to stay home instead of eating on outdoor patios has driven some of the decline in customers. But Reibman and Bacon said the state’s hodge-podge of rules is confusing and Reibman said some of the rules pushed by Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito aren’t justifiable.
For Bacon, one of those guidelines is stopping in-person dining at 9:30 p.m., which started in November. “We were hobbling along and sort of getting by and breaking even previously. But now with the 9:30 p.m. closing, it’s been even more difficult,” he said.
Bacon hopes Baker will loosen up that restriction and remind people that the spike in COVID-19 cases isn’t coming from indoor dining. He and Reibman both believe that restaurants following all regulations are safer environments for people to eat at than indoor gatherings without safety measures in place.
“The data shows that restaurants are overwhelmingly doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Reibman. Out of 11,000 inspections from the beginning of the pandemic through August, over 97 percent were in compliance.
Congress gave tentative approval to a stimulus package over the weekend, which includes a $300 billion boost to the Paycheck Protection Program.