Will the Coronavirus Make Restaurants Like Mine Extinct?

If it can, the devastated industry should start from scratch after the epidemic and finally take care of its workers.

By Amanda Cohen

Last week, I laid off all 30 of my employees and closed the restaurant I’ve run for over a decade, Dirt Candy. I’ve worked shoulder to shoulder with many of these people every night for years.

I’ve lost a family. They’ve lost their jobs.

If I knew the coronavirus lockdown would last two or three weeks I would have kept them on the payroll, but we have no idea how long this will last. A month? Two? Six? After three weeks of issuing payroll checks while earning no income, I would have an empty bank account. And if that happens, I’ll never reopen.
During the shutdown, I’m still expected to pay my rent, my insurance and my utility bills. Even if some of those bills can be deferred, that just means when I reopen I’d be carrying a load of debt I wouldn’t be able to pay down.

Some restaurants are offering deliveries, but the money that business would bring in wouldn’t equal what my staff could receive in unemployment benefits, which, because Dirt Candy had a no-tipping policy and paid a higher hourly wage instead, will be near the top of the scale.

Now we’re in limbo. I can be prepared to reopen, but when? How much debt will I be carrying? Will there be a relief fund for restaurants? Debt forgiveness? Bailout money? And who decides how it gets apportioned? Nothing is certain.