Restaurants Stand to Lose Aid Option
Under $1.2T infrastructure act. A federal aid program aimed at helping restaurants recover from the pandemic will end three months earlier than planned under a provision of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure improvement bill approved Tuesday morning by the Senate. The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) provides restaurateurs and other small employers with an advance against their taxes of up to 70% of what they pay in Social Security payroll taxes. Essentially, the government provides the money upfront in anticipation of the credit being taken when the business files its returns for the year. Only operations with 500 or fewer employees can get the advance. The amounts can range up to $7,000 per employee per quarter in 2021. But the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act ends the ERC program with the third quarter, or on Sept. 30, instead of letting it run through the remainder of the year.
Senate Proposed a $48 Billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment
The proposal at unanimous consent was blocked. A bipartisan group of senators — including U.S. Senate committee on small business and entrepreneurship chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — introduced legislation Saturday to add $48 billion in emergency funding to the depleted Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The group of senators sought unanimous consent to pass the funding legislation but were blocked by an objection. “Congress cannot mistake the hopeful signs of recovery for proof that restaurants are back to where they were before the pandemic,” Cardin said in a statement. “Restaurants nationwide remain buried under more than 18 months of debt, and they are struggling to rehire staff and purchase supplies. This bill will guarantee funding to the nearly 180,000 applicants that have yet to receive grants. This can wait no longer, and I regret that my unanimous consent request was objected to today. It is my fear that if Congress fails to act, many of our most cherished restaurants will not survive.”
Restaurants Are Busier Than Ever
But we’re all hanging by a thread. The worst of the pandemic shutdowns are over, I am told, but I am still a nervous wreck. PPP and grants saved independent restaurants from closing and business is booming, I am told, but I am still worried about my restaurants. Food costs are at an all-time high. Scallops are 40 percent more expensive; shallots are up 44 percent, brussels sprouts are up 32 percent. Some weeks I can’t find chicken wings. And when thousands of restaurants across America tried to reopen all at the same time this past spring, I knew an employee shortage was bound to happen. But for it to last this long, you couldn’t predict that. So here we are, struggling to find workers, supplies, and ingredients for our restaurants. In the past three months, I have picked up shifts in every kitchen position; I’ve been a bartender, a host, a waiter. I have driven across town to buy ingredients from grocery stores when our purveyors shorted our deliveries. My restaurants are busier than ever—and yet we are all hanging on by a thread.
Majority of Restaurant Owners Fear
Delta outbreaks will harm business recovery. A hefty number of restaurants, 88%, are fearful the ongoing Delta coronavirus variant spread will hurt recovery and it’s a fear that 76% of all small business operators have. More than three-quarters, 77%, of retailers share the same concern. Those figures come from an Alignable Research Center poll that queried 5,164 SMB operators, according to a press release. The main worry are potential closures and shutdowns similar to what occurred at COVID-19’s initial appearance in the U.S. in the spring of 2020. More than three-quarters of New York-based SMBs, 82%, are worried and that concern is likely higher than when the poll was conducted as New York City issued a mask mandate for dining indoors last week.
Restaurants Will Never Be the Same
They shouldn’t be. Few business sectors have experienced such violent swings between feast and famine in the last year as restaurants. Early in the pandemic, there was a demand problem: Few to no customers were willing to take the risk of eating in a dining room. Today, people are going out to eat again, and amid overwhelming demand, there’s a supply issue: A serious labor shortage confronts restaurants across the country. As a chef and former restaurant owner, I know that the root causes of this predicament date to well before the pandemic. To address it, restaurants must fundamentally change. Diners must, too. Operating on the thinnest of margins, restaurants often engage in a race to the bottom to offer diners “value” and keep them coming back. They buy cheap ingredients, pay low wages and stretch people to their limits. In many restaurants, immigrants and people of color are marginalized, and reports of sexual harassment and assault are widespread. And restaurant culture more broadly shames employees for taking care of themselves, valorizes abuse as “tough love” and shows little regard for work-life balance.
Should Restaurants Ask For Proof of Vaccination?
Here’s what some NJ spots are considering. Chris Cannon, owner of Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, a stunning restaurant complex in Morristown, is seriously considering requiring his customers for proof of vaccination, but not before he gets their feedback. So, he asked on social media. Regina Vitti, owner of Cenzino, a rustic Italian restaurant in Oakland, already has asked — and still doesn’t know what to do. Like most every restaurateur in New Jersey, Cannon and Vitti are grappling with the latest hurdle their battered industry is facing, now that the highly contagious delta variant threatens to cause diners, once again, to avoid eating out, at least indoors. Restaurateurs’ quandary at the moment: whether to require proof of vaccination and risk losing customers — or not require proof and risk losing customers. New Jersey restaurateurs are well aware that as of Aug. 16, diners in New York City will be required to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues under a mandate by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Back to Normal?
It’s a tall order as New York City Restaurants struggle. At Sylvia’s Restaurant, a 59-year-old Harlem mainstay that rode out the shocks and shutdowns of the pandemic’s first year, the city’s return to full-capacity indoor dining this spring and summer has simply brought a new set of challenges. Workers have been so hard to find, even after the restaurant raised wages, that the owners had to call in relatives from across the country to help. Indoor seating remains limited because they can’t serve all the tables. Breakfast has been put on pause. As food prices soar, customer favorites like the smothered beef short ribs have been taken off the menu. New Yorkers began the summer with expectations of a grand reopening — tourists flocking to visit, curfews lifted, and dining and nightlife regaining their former effervescence. But many restaurants are still dealing with fallout from the Covid shutdowns, while scrambling to satisfy a public determined to enjoy a normal summer.
A Perfect Storm is Rocking the Seafood Supply Chain
Consumer demand is strong – unprecedented price increases and spotty supply. “For the last three months, every day is like the Christmas rush,” said Wayne Samiere, founder and CEO of Honolulu Fish Company. Samiere is referring to the current unprecedented demand for seafood by restaurants and consumers—a spike that usually happens around Christmas, Mother’s Day and other peak times. This year, the demand is ongoing, with restaurants all ramping up operations at the same time and customers vying for seats at the table. That strong demand, coupled with spotty supply and a weak dollar, has caused prices to double for many species of fish and shellfish. “Most seafood is imported to the U.S.,” he said, “and traditional supply lines from South America and Asia are broken as a result of the pandemic.” That means more high-end mainland restaurants are turning to Hawaii for their supply of sashimi grade ahi tuna, swordfish, mahi mahi and other species. Others are relying on product from waters along the Eastern, Western and Southern coasts, but the catch has been disappointing in several locations.
Did You Know?
These global beverage trends are dominating the restaurant industry. The global pantry has long provided a reliable wellspring of inspiration for chefs, who have adapted and adopted international flavors with dishes that nod to their source while luring patrons to try something new. Current menu exemplars include Elote Mexican street corn hash with chipotle crema, which is a limited-time-only offer at daytime cafe chain First Watch, and Kung Pao noodles with crispy lobster tossed in a sweet and spicy soy-ginger sauce, which is on the permanent menu at seafood powerhouse Red Lobster. Relatively less attention has been paid to beverage offerings. Sure, bartenders have been quick to experiment with imported spirits, beers and wines and to concoct creative cocktails, but the nonalcoholic side has been a relative nonstarter. There are signs, however, that this is starting to change.
Restaurants have hired 1.3M employees since January. Food services and drinking places filled 253,000 jobs in July, compared to 194,000 in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which represents a 30% increase in hiring. The industry has hired over 1.3 million employees since January and now employs 11.3 million people compared to 9.8 million people in July 2020, a 15% increase. While July’s employment numbers are nearly double the industry’s employment low of 6.3 million reported in April 2020, it is still about 1 million shy of February 2020 employment numbers at 12.3 million. The industry has now had seven months of job gains.
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Bielat Santore & Company sells Lakeside Restaurant. The executor of the estate of Todd Lory would like to take this opportunity to thank Richard Santore and his firm, Bielat Santore & Company for the exceptional job he did in selling Lory’s Lakeside, a mainstay in North Brunswick for almost 30 years. In December of 2019, Mr. Lory passed away suddenly, and afterward, the property and business were being managed by his estate. In July of 2020, during the Coronavirus epidemic, the estate contacted Bielat Santore & Company seeking representation to market and sell Lory’s Lakeside, located at 97 Church Lane in North Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey. One year later, Lory’s Lakeside was sold!