Activists call on congress to protect independent restaurants

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Over 3,500 Chefs and Restaurateurs from Across the Country Call On Congress to Fix the CARES Act to Protect Independent Restaurants and Their 11 Million Workers During Coronavirus Pandemic

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Chefs Describe “Significant Issues With the CARES Act Treatment of Independent Restaurants” Including Too Short a Time for Paycheck Protection, Inability to Access Capital to Reopen, and Lack of Tax Rebates to Rehire or Assurances for Restaurant Owners Filing Insurance Claims

Last Week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Reported Nearly 60% of Payroll Jobs Lost in March Were in the Food and Beverage Industry, Eliminating Two Years of Gains in Employment

Ensuring Independent Restaurants And Their Workers Survive This Pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, more than 3,500 chefs, restaurateurs and workers from across the country joined leaders of the Independent Restaurant Coalition to call on Congress to take urgent new actions to ensure independent restaurants and the 11 million people they employ are able to survive the Coronavirus pandemic. In a letter sent to congressional leaders, the Coalition lays out a series of critical policy actions that Congress should take now to ensure the nearly 500,000 independent restaurants that contribute close to $1 trillion to our economy are able to not only reopen but stay open through the year as the economy slowly recovers and the nation gradually returns to normal rates of socialization.

“We have significant issues with the CARES Act treatment of independent restaurants as it currently stands. If these can be resolved to better reflect the realities of our industry’s unique operating challenges, we will have a better chance of reopening, rebuilding, and ensuring our continued position as fundamental to the fabric of our rich and diverse communities across America,” the letter states.

Proposed Changes To The CARES Act

Among the Coalition’s proposed changes to the CARES Act — the recently passed stimulus package aimed at supporting businesses impacted by the ongoing pandemic — are:

1. Fixing the Paycheck Protection Program by extending the maximum loan amount to three months after restaurants can legally reopen to full capacity, reinstating the $500 million gross revenue cap, and increasing the length of time restaurant owners have to repay their loans to 10 years from two years.

2. Launching a Restaurant Stabilization Fund that provides up to $100 billion in grants to independent restaurants that will give them the upfront capital they need to reopen.

3. Creating new tax rebates that incentivize employment so restaurants continue to employ full staff and pay rent when business is slow.

4. Ensuring business interruption insurance covers COVID-19. Right now, restaurants aren’t receiving the benefits they deserve from insurance companies.

“It’s simple: Without help, many of your favorite restaurants are not going to be there once this crisis is over,” said Tom Colicchio, Chef & Owner of Crafted Hospitality and a founding member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. “The longer restaurants remain closed, the larger the risk to the nearly $1 trillion economy they create through their supply chain of farmers, fisherman, linen services, and so many others. Over two million waiters and waitresses need a job when this crisis ends, and we need assurances from Congress that they will listen to the specific needs of independently-run restaurants during the next round of discussions. “

Unemployment On The Rise

The Coalition’s push comes in the wake of reports last week that more than 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last several weeks — with more than 6.6 million filing just last week. The U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that two-thirds of jobs lost in March came from hospitality — and more than half were food and beverage jobs. BLS also noted that the drop wiped out nearly all the gains in the restaurant business from the past two years.

“Many of us quickly shut down our businesses and paid our employees’ health benefits out of pocket because it was the socially responsible thing to do. But we need help,” said Naomi Pomeroy, owner of the James-Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurant Beast in Portland, OR, and a founding member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. “I was proud to directly employ a team of 30 people at Beast, and kept several others in business including local farms, wineries, and beverage distributors. Communities simply can’t afford for our restaurants to fail. We are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities, and we need help. We are grateful to be able to pay our employees for eight weeks and just want to ensure they’ll still have a job when our restaurants can reopen.”

"The bar for someone trying to open a restaurant is now impossibly high, especially for minority owned businesses,” said Kwame Onwuachi, James Beard 2019 Rising Star and a founding member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. “People infected by coronavirus in the Bronx, for example, are three times more likely to die than those in Manhattan. These are the people that feed America. Even if our doors open tomorrow, business will be slow. We just lost several months of revenue, and will need to purchase new supplies, retrain a new staff, and pay any outstanding supplier bills and our rent. The CARES Act just isn’t enough to ensure we’re able to serve our communities and build our local economies.”

The Independent Restaurant Coalition was formed by chefs and independent restaurant owners across the country who have built a grassroots movement to secure vital protections for the nation’s more than 500,000 independent restaurants and the more than 11 million restaurant workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Coalition’s leadership team includes José Andrés, Kevin Boehm, Sean Brock, Andrew Carmellini, Ashley Christensen, Tom Colicchio, Suzanne Goin, Will Guidara, Camilla Marcus, Mike Lata, Sam Kass, Nick Kokonas, Kwame Onwuachi, Patrick Phelan, Erika Polmar, Naomi Pomeroy, Marcus Samuelsson, Adam Saper, Steven Satterfield, Michael Shemtov, Nancy Silverton, Frank Stitt, Bobby Stuckey, Caroline Styne, and Andrew Zimmern.

The full letter sent by the Coalition to Congress today can be found here. More information about the Independent Restaurant Coalition can be found at