Twelve years ago, chef extraordinaire Naomi Pomeroy opened Beast, a cozy, 26-seat fine-dining restaurant in Portland, Oregon, where she decides the menu for six-course dinners that rotate regularly. “A chef’s dream,” her peers call it.
The restaurant thrived, earning ink in the New Yorker, Food & Wine and Bon Appetit. In 2014, Pomeroy won the prestigious Best Chef for the Northwest region by the James Beard Association, the top awards in the nation’s culinary world.
But all the accolades and packed seats couldn’t save Beast from the harsh, swift consequences of a global pandemic that has forced restaurants and bars across the country to halt operations as states enforce stay-at-home orders.
Pomeroy’s restaurant and accompanying bar, Expatriate, closed March 15 – temporarily, hopefully. All 30 employees are on furlough as the nation waits out the coronavirus outbreak.
Now she is among thousands of independent restaurateurs nationwide – who collectively employ more than 11 million workers at 500,000 restaurants – looking to the federal government for assistance to stay afloat through unprecedented times. But Pomeroy and other restaurant owners say the Paycheck Protection Program, aimed at relief for small businesses in the recently approved $2.2 trillion CARES Act, doesn’t address their industry’s unique challenges.
Restaurateurs say the restrictions around how the loans are used, and the timeline in which the money must be spent, don’t work for businesses who still aren’t sure when customers will return. They want Congress to make fixes to the fund and expand the financial aid in the next round of federal relief. But Congress is still arguing over what another cash influx to the PPP, which officially ran out of money on Thursday, would look like.
Until the outlook improves, many owners are unsure whether they can reopen.
“I’m 100% sure that I’m not sure,” Pomeroy, founding member of the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition, said about reopening Beast. “When somebody asked me the other day, I gave it a 50/50 chance to be honest.”
80% of restaurants unsure about reopening
From local diners and dives to national chains and chef-driven bistros, restaurants are largely in the same boat. Some owners have kept their restaurants open selling take-out, bringing in drastically less revenue than accustomed. Others like Pomeroy decided it made more financial sense to shut the door until social distancing measures are relaxed. Nearly all are hurting, with restaurants accounting for 60 percent of the 16.8 million jobs lost during a recent three-week stretch.