St. Louis restaurants need your help during the coronavirus pandemic
There are 88,000 people in the St. Louis hospitality industry, according to Mayor Lyda Krewson. She shared the statistic at a press conference informing the public that all St. Louis city and county restaurants were required to close their dining rooms by March 19 in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Restaurants in Illinois had already shut down March 16.
At Sauce, we are privileged to focus exclusively on the small local businesses owned, operated and frequented by our neighbors. In the days before Krewson’s announcement, we were overwhelmed by news from chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs we have been covering for 20 years – updated cleaning procedures, reduced seating to increase social distance, dining room closures, new carryout policies, temporary closures and heartfelt messages from people trying to do their part to fight the coronavirus while somehow staying in business.
A week before deadline for the April issue, we threw out our spring schedule. We reworked content in days, did the hardest interviews of our careers and tried not give into the panic of this shifting landscape. We have reported on our Best New Restaurants closing temporarily and our Ones to Watch losing their jobs. We have talked to business owners who just fired all their employees knowing they had less to offer now than an unemployment check.
In those days that felt like weeks, we also saw countless examples of what makes the St. Louis restaurant industry a joy to cover even now. We watched Grace Meat + Three owners Elisa and Rick Lewis sacrifice their salaries and Grace employees take voluntary pay cuts to prevent furloughing staff. We witnessed The Gramophone owner Roo Yawitz and Niche Food Group owner Gerard Craft launch Gateway Resilience Fund, aiming to get millions into the hands of industry workers when they needed it most.
We watched Craft announce on social media that he was willingly shutting down six of his seven restaurants, including carryout, before there were any government restrictions. “After seeing nights of very crowded dining rooms, I found myself more terrified than relieved,” he said, speaking for all of us. “Our No. 1 goal right now is doing our part to put an end to this virus.”
Craft, a James Beard Award winner with generous investors, was still able to pay his employees for a time after closing. Most small restaurant owners do not have as many resources and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only one-third of hospitality workers have access to paid time off under normal circumstances.
These are not normal circumstances.
The National Restaurant Association estimates that 5 to 7 million jobs will be lost in the next three months. And so we join community leaders like Craft in imploring our federal, state and local governments for the help that could save the restaurants we love and hope to continue to cover. We ask for immediate emergency unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the coronavirus closures, the elimination of payroll tax, rent and loan abatement for impacted workers, and the deferment of Small Business Administration loan payments.
None of these needs have been met. On March 18, Gov. Mike Parson made the first step by declaring a disaster and initiating the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. We hope every level of our government follows suit.
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