Currents

Don’t come in... but we’re still serving

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped our local restaurants from dishing up food and caring—they’re just social distancing

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HONESDALE, PA — It’s a scary time for the economy in general, but particularly for restaurants and its workers. What do people say when they need to cut back? “Oh, I’ll eat out less.”

Couple that with a pandemic where we need to maintain social distancing, and that spells out a potential disaster for any business that relies not only on the disposable income of others but also on people showing up and staying long enough to eat or drink. Laid-off workers, especially if they don’t qualify for unemployment, are in dire straits.

As a solution, some places are switching to takeout until the state deems it safe to open to the public again; this lets them keep some staff employed and the business going. 

Honesdale’s Two Guys from Italy is still serving comfort-hungry customers. Before coronavirus, they had both a dine-in and a takeout business, so families and friends could spend time together over a broad choice of entrees, Italian food, or sandwiches (plus pizza). Now, like other restaurants, Two Guys is takeout-only. “We are open, and we are doing the same takeout and delivery business we’ve always done,” owner John Valerio said. “Everyone has been great.” 

Over on Honesdale’s Main Street at the Here & Now Brewing Company, they’d always offered takeout, said employee Elizabeth Lepro in an email. “But we’re a community brewpub that typically encourages sharing, mingling and meeting strangers, and just generally coming together over a good beer and a locally sourced pizza.”

Before coronavirus, there was music. There were beer festivals, chili and wing cookoffs, and bridal fairs, she said. “Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been easy for us to close our doors to all of that.”

They started planning as soon as the future became clear. “We watched restaurants closing down in other states, and saw our music events canceling for the month,” Lepro said. “A few core staff were in the brewery on Monday trying to decide how we would navigate St. Patrick’s Day when we heard Gov. Wolf’s announcement that we couldn’t stay open. We planned then to safely sell beer as long as we possibly could, and still do.” Beer, as well as their food, is available for takeout.

It’s hard for restaurants in general—business in general—because no matter what, the bills have to be paid, Valerio said. “Rent is still 100 percent, refrigeration still goes on 100 percent. Non-variable overhead hasn’t changed... It has to be paid one way or another.”

His message to the community is about human behavior. Two Guys is right by Weis Supermarket, and Valerio said that store is packed every day. 

But here’s the thing. Trucks are still arriving, full of food, Valerio said. He sees them. “The supply chains are still running.” 

His point, and that of others: We are not going to run out of food. “The best thing people can do, aside from social distancing, is to try to have as normal a routine as possible.” There is no reason to panic. Just be careful and follow directives. 

For the laid-off worker and restaurants in jeopardy

The economic crunch is real; nationwide, restaurant staff have been let go. For them, help is out there. (See the box to the right for a list of groups raising money to help restaurant workers and people in the gig economy, who may not be able to claim unemployment.) 

In terms of government assistance, John deBary, founder of the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (RWCF), said in an email, “There’s also important legislation being formed at the state and federal levels to help workers.

“We need people who care about restaurants to call their representatives to make sure bills include provisions for the industry: emergency relief, expedited unemployment benefits, deferred payroll taxes and licensing fees, a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions, and grants for small business ‘life support’ and health insurance.”

Such bills would benefit more than restaurants; they’d help everyone. 

“We’ve also seen some inspiring on-the-ground efforts to feed laid-off workers,” deBary continued. “Some restaurants are taking inventory and turning it into meal kits for their fellow hospitality workers. Other restaurants have turned to making low-cost meals for restaurant workers and the public.”

He’s concerned about the viability of takeout and delivery. “It’s tough to say how long these efforts will keep the community afloat without immediate aid from the government.” 

We matter

While we call people in Congress, we can remember that we’ve always rallied around neighbors in need, and the people in our counties still do. It’s just that our small businesses—especially the ones dependent on tourism, like restaurants—need us now. 

“We’ve seen tremendous community support so far, from regulars with social media reaches sharing our content online and encouraging business, to people stopping in for takeout,” said Lepro. “All of this has made us even more proud to be part of this community.”

Finding help

  • For food workers who have been laid off, unemployment is the first thing to try.
  • If you don’t qualify, or if you need more help, there are groups out there. The national Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation has formed a COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund to directly address the problems of restaurant workers who are out of work or quarantined
  • Its resource page lists places that food workers can contact for help.
  • Restaurant workers in our area who are in dire need of assistance “can apply for relief from Southern Smoke, who will evaluate case-based on the state of an applicant’s emergency, prioritizing issues like medical needs,” said RWCF founder John deBary.
  • One Fair Wage is focused on fair wages for all, including restaurant workers. Right now, they’re concentrating on the needs of the recently laid-off who may not be able to get unemployment (if they’re contract workers or recently moved here) nor have a family safety net to help.
  • Undocumented workers have a whole other level of challenges; One Fair Wage can help. “We are able to provide cash assistance to United States citizens, temporary residents and undocumented immigrants and will do so respecting your privacy and safety,” they say on their emergency fund site, www.ofwemergencyfund.org. “[Since] undocumented workers are often not able to access other forms of economic support, we encourage you to apply. Information collected will only be used for the purposes of communicating with you for follow-up steps.” 

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