Celebrity chefs join Gillibrand in call for restaurant relief bill

Photo courtesy of @gillibrandny
From left, Chef Tom Colicchio, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chef David Chang hold a press conference to call for legislation that would provide financial assistance to struggling restaurants. In New York City, the restaurant industry accounts for an estimated 1 in 12 private sector jobs. Front photo by Anthony Quintano, via Wikipedia Commons.
On Oct. 20, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, alongside restaurateurs David Chang and Tom Colicchio, urged the U.S. Senate to pass the Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act of 2020 as soon as possible. The funding would be designated for independent eateries in an effort to avoid closing their doors due to the strain COVID-19 has put on their business. The restaurant industry, specifically in New York City, has been hit hard by a litany of stay-at-home orders, safety protocols and capacity limits that have been put in place over the last eight months. These lockdown measures are only expected to get worse throughout the winter. The colder weather will limit the outdoor seating that many restaurants have used to accommodate more patrons, and the rising COVID cases throughout the state leave the potential for a more stringent lockdown in the near future, similar to what the state had earlier this year. “Independent restaurants are facing an extinction-level event. Restaurants will soon disappear by the thousands, and all of the businesses and individuals that depend on them will be left helpless.” said David Chang, the chef and founder of Momofuku. Chang’s fears are far from unwarranted. In August, the New York City Hospitality Alliance found that nearly 90 percent of New York City bars and restaurants could not pay their rent. According to the New York State Comptroller’s Office, over the next six months a third to a half of the City’s restaurants and bars could close permanently. The food industry is also extremely important to New York’s economy. Data compiled by the state Comptroller’s Office indicates that the New York City restaurant industry accounted for about 1 in 12 private sector jobs and establishments citywide in 2019. The restaurant industry is the second largest component of tourism spending in New York City, behind lodging. The industry contributed about 15 percent of total taxable sales citywide in 2019. If the projected closures did happen it could result in 106,000 to 159,000 permanent job losses. The restaurants of New York also lend to the culture of the city itself. According to the New York State Comptroller’s Office, 80 percent of the city’s restaurants have less than 20 employees and showcase the cuisine of more than 150 nations. Although rich in diversity, these small businesses are amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of lost revenue due to COVID-19. Tom Colicchio, owner of Crafted Hospitality and founding member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, agrees that supporting restaurants is of the highest importance right now. “For seven months, most neighborhood restaurants haven’t been able to turn a profit due to no fault of their own. Looking ahead towards winter, outdoor dining will be nearly impossible and neighborhood restaurants will be forced to decide if they can afford to stay open and continue to employ over 11 million people,” said Colicchio, who serves as the head judge on Bravo TV’s cooking competition show, Top Chef. The legislation supported by Gillibrand, Colicchio and Chang would create a $120 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund so that restaurants can continue to meet operating costs, pay employees and buy supplies needed for COVID-19 cleaning measures. A portion of the grant fund, $60 million, would be allocated to serving minority and veteran owned businesses. Establishments included in the RESTAURANTS Act of 2020 are restaurants, food trucks, stands and carts, caterers, bars and more. Funding would be determined based on the difference in income from 2019 and projected income for 2020. The Fund would be administered through the Department of Treasury to cover expenses between February 15, 2020 and December 31, 2020. “Over 40 Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have cosponsored the Restaurants Act because it’s common sense policy. We cannot wait until after the election or until January to get this done,” said Colicchio. Since the bill was introduced, former vice president Joe Biden became the president-elect. He released his COVID-10 response plan which includes relief for small businesses but not specific mention of the RESTAURANTS Act of 2020 or restaurants in general. The plan states, “The federal government must act swiftly and aggressively to help protect and support our families, small businesses, first responders and caregivers essential to help us face this challenge, those who are most vulnerable to health and economic impacts, and our broader communities – not to blame others or bail out corporations.”