If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do

No one needs to be told that the pandemic has severely impacted the restaurant industry—at least, no one that eats out with any regularity. For some, more than any other element of the pandemic, the shuttering of bars and restaurants has been the most jarring element of lockdown. Working from home? No problem. Not being able to eat out? That’s a major crisis for some people.

Of course, major crisis doesn’t begin to describe the experience of most restaurateurs. They’re fighting for their very lives and livelihoods, a fight that many have already lost.

Since most of America went into a hard shutdown in the spring of 2020, industry estimates suggest that more than 125,000 have been forced out of business. Mostly small businesses or sole proprietorships, restaurants have been unable to carry the costs of rent, payroll, and outstanding debts through the rollercoaster of full closures, takeout-dining-only restrictions, and limited re-openings that have meant a constant firehose of changing regulations, all steeped with the one thing that is the enemy of any business great or small: uncertainty.

But before uncertainty, there was pain. Pure pain.

As the country went into lockdown, and more than 500,000 restaurants closed their doors, millions of restaurant workers lost their jobs, and roughly $220 billion of revenue evaporated in the second quarter of 2020 alone.

Few people truly understand the scale of the restaurant industry, which directly employs more than 11 million people in the United States. Add in the truck drivers who deliver food, and other adjacent businesses focused entirely on restaurants and the direct and indirect employment number grows to 16 million.

Incidentally, that’s far more than the airline industry (direct employment of 750,000), the auto industry (direct employment of 1.3 million), or the entire financial services industry (direct employment of 6.3 million). Of the roughly 10 million people forced into unemployment by the pandemic, roughly 1 in 4, or more than 2.5 million are from the restaurant industry.

Pandemic relief scorecard thus far?:

Airline industry: $60 billion first round of stimulus, $15 billion, second round; no governmentally imposed restrictions on capacity or general operations.

Restaurant industry: $0 in stimulus; forced closure in some places; multiple complete shutdowns of indoor dining; severe restrictions on operating capacity (50% or 25%) in place for the foreseeable future in most regions, even as reopening occurs.

It’s a constantly fluid number, difficult to measure because there is no central governing body or universal association to which every restaurant belongs, but estimates at the moment suggest that 1 in 6 independent restaurants in America have closed permanently. According to the Washington Post, Chapter 11 bankruptcies among restaurants are up 50% above 2019 levels.

The stimulus program put into place as part of the March 2020 $2 trillion CARES act included $377 billion of relief earmarked for small businesses. But that relief was in the form of one-time $10,000 grants for some businesses, with the vast majority of the $377 billion delivered as the infamous PPP loans, under the Paycheck Protection Program.

The abject failure of the Paycheck Protection Program for many businesses has now been widely reported. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that these are loans, not the grants that many industries received, despite their best efforts many restaurateurs couldn’t manage to get those loans. PPP simply didn’t work for the restaurant industry. You only need to look at the numbers for proof. The restaurant industry made up a quarter of the jobs lost to the pandemic, but restaurants received only 8.1% of the PPP loans issued.

If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do

Many small businesses shut their doors, sent their employees home, and had them work from home for months. And many still got PPP loans. With their employees working at more or less full capacity, these loans amounted to a decent boost for organizations that might have flagging sales or some lost productivity due to employees caring for kids or sick loved ones.

The average restaurant in America operates at a profit margin of 3-5%, with significant sunk costs in food and beverages at any given moment in time. The profit lost from merely having to throw out all the food they couldn’t use when the shutdown came was enough to sink some restaurants. Never mind the massive quantities of takeout containers, PPE, and other costs a restaurant has had to incur if they made it to the point of being able to open up again for take-out and delivery.

Unlike grocery stores that can remain open even if a bunch of their employees get COVID-19, in many states restaurants are forced to close and pay sick leave to everyone for two weeks if even a single member of their staff tests positive.

“If relief doesn’t come, we expect 85% of the restaurant industry could be permanently decimated,” says Erika Palomar, Executive Director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a grassroots group formed in March to tackle something that the restaurant industry has never done before in its history: lobby Congress on its behalf.

“Washington DC didn’t understand our needs,” says restaurateur Bobby Stuckey, owner of Frasca Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, and co-founder of the IRC. “They never heard from [the restaurant industry]. Not in the financial crisis of 2008, not after 9/11, not during the stock market crash of ’87. They’ve been hearing from the airline industry in good times and in bad for 50 years.”

The IRC began its advocacy in March and by early June, they had calculated roughly how much money they thought was required to stave off disaster for the 500,000 small-business owners that they adopted as their constituents: $120 billion. They had also built enough relationships to get the RESTAURANTS Act drafted as a bill and introduced into the 116th Congress on June 18th, sponsored by Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker (R) and Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer (D).

If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do

The rest of the summer and fall was spent lobbying anyone and everyone the IRC could get a meeting with in Washington. “We had tremendous support from over half the Congress,” says Palomar, “but with everything going on it just couldn’t move, and they ran out of time.” The bill never came up for a vote.

Palomar and her colleagues began work immediately to re-introduce the bill in the 117th Congress (a requirement when a piece of legislation is introduced but not voted on), and it was successfully reintroduced three weeks ago on February 5th, with two additional co-sponsors, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Pennsylvania Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R).

But before it could come up for a vote, on February 1st, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package would include a $25 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. And when Palomar and her colleagues read the text of the bill itself, the found themselves looking at some very familiar language.

“This Revitalization Fund utilizes all the principles within the RESTAURANTS Act,” says Palomar. “I’m delighted. We’re all delighted.”

Palomar and all her colleagues were further thrilled this past Friday, February 26th, when the House of Representatives passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act, including the $25 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, and sent it to the Senate.

That might sound like victory, but it’s far from it.

As we have already seen with the elimination of the promised $15 federal minimum wage from this process, passage in the House doesn’t mean a given provision will survive passage in the Senate, especially when legislation is being passed through the arcane process of budget reconciliation.

Let’s not forget that the minimum price tag (in reality, the amount is likely twice that) for rescuing the restaurant industry is $120 billion, and this stimulus bill only includes $25 billion, but it’s a serious start.

“This is about both the money and the program,” says Palomar. “Having this program stood up as part of [the stimulus] is huge, and the hope is that future budget bills could refill the program.”

The mechanism of adding more funding for restaurants in future legislation is a walk in the park compared to getting a relief program established in the first place. That’s why everyone is holding their breath to see how this stimulus bill moves through the senate.

That’s also why now, more than ever, the restaurant industry needs all of our help.

“When independent restaurants hurt, neighborhoods hurt,” says Palomar. “Restaurants are the cornerstone of our communities. They are places where dreams come to life—dreams that the pandemic has destroyed or put on hold.”

If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do

While I enjoy cooking enough to not have faced a major existential crisis when restaurants closed, I adore eating out, and now count many restaurateurs as friends and acquaintances. I have been doing everything I can think of to support the restaurants we love. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

If, like me, you’d like the restaurants you know and love to survive, here’s a list of what we all need to do, probably for the next year, maybe two.

#1 Call your Senators NOW and ask them to support the RESTAURANTS Act

Wait, but isn’t the RESTAURANTS act no longer necessary because the COVID relief bill now includes a Restaurants Revitalization Fund? That’s what I thought. But I was wrong. There are two very important reasons to tell your Senators to sign on as co-sponsors to the existing bill. The first reason is that a show of support for the bill will ensure that its provisions (and the $25 billion attached to those provisions) remain a part of the stimulus package when and if it passes the Senate. The second is that even if the RESTAURANTS Act never comes up for a vote, having a significant number of Senators signed on as cosponsors means that future funding of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (we still need at least another $95 billion, remember) will be much easier. This is about building an iron-clad set of bipartisan advocates in the Senate, and that is something that we as individuals can absolutely help with. Call your Senator, tell them how much you love your neighborhood restaurants, how awful life will be without them, and how important it is that they support Senators Wicker and Sinema and their legislation. That’s an easy call to make, or you can use the IRC website to send a message online. Then tell all your friends and family to do it too.

#2 Patronize your favorite restaurants. A lot.

Whether your city is gradually opening up for outdoor and indoor dining, or you’re still stuck on take-out only, show your support for these neighborhood institutions and the people who work at them by being a customer if you can afford it. Order food, buy gift certificates, And if you can really afford it, do it again, and again, and again, and order wine whenever you do. Remember that most of the profit that restaurants make comes from booze, and that for many wineries, restaurants represent more than 40% of their annual sales. If you buy a bottle of wine with your takeout meal, or as you’re sitting in that parklet, you’re supporting two industries with one contactless swipe of your credit card.

#3 Tip like people’s lives depend on it. Yes, even on take-out food.

The folks that are lucky enough to still have jobs working at restaurants aren’t getting hazard pay. They’re likely not getting health insurance either. Yet there they are, working their asses off so that we can all have something to eat other than the recipes we’ve worn out over the past 12 months. Here in the Bay Area, according to government studies, 97% of the people who work in hospitality earn less than a Living Wage. Part of restaurants surviving the pandemic means the people who work there need to survive the pandemic, too, and they need a lot of help, too.

Along these same lines, all of us who are lucky enough to still have incomes ought to expect our favorite establishments to raise their prices, and we should be perfectly content pay more for our food, especially when the alternative might be an empty storefront.

#4 Keep your mask on when dealing with restaurant employees. Even at the table.

Speaking of people who work at restaurants surviving…. Folks in the hospitality industry are literally putting their lives, and the lives of the people they live with, at risk by showing up to serve you dinner. As guests, we should be doing whatever we can to keep them safe. That means following the restaurant’s guidelines, be that temperature checks at the door or answering those ridiculously repetitive COVID-19 questionnaires before we can be served. And most importantly, that means putting our masks back on when servers, bussers, sommeliers, or others approach our tables. It’s at the very least, a gesture of respect and consideration, and at most, an easy way to make sure that your favorite restaurant stays open. One case of COVID on a restaurant’s staff in many cities means a mandatory shutdown. Oh, and make sure to enable COVID exposure notifications on your smartphone.

#5 Cut everyone some slack

Yes, it’s the hospitality industry, yes they live to serve customers, but for pete’s sake, it’s a goddamn pandemic and they’re trying to feed their families. If they screw up your takeout order, or forget to bring you that drink you ordered, take a deep breath and try to remember they’re operating under the most difficult set of constraints that have been imposed on any active business in the United States. Sure, some places like gyms or hair salons have been unable to operate, period, but of any type of business allowed to keep operating, restaurants have been subject to the most ridiculous number of (constantly changing) regulations and rules of any consumer-facing industry. Restaurants and the people working in them are bending over backwards to make it possible for us all to have a decent meal that we don’t have to cook with our own two hands. We all need to bring an extra dose of tolerance and gratitude to an industry that just wanted to feed us, but has ended up fighting for its very life at the same time.

* * *

I sent this piece to a friend who owns a restaurant and asked her if she thought there was anything I should add. Her response was a little surprising.

While she agreed that everything above made sense, she said that more than anything, the thing that is going to help restaurants is getting the virus truly under control. And she wasn’t sure that just vaccinating people and gradually opening back up indoor dining at lower capacity levels was going to make that happen.

In fact, she was quite skeptical of that approach in the near term. She suggested that, among other things, once official bans on indoor dining were lifted, landlords everywhere would be pushing their restaurant tenants to open back up, whether or not they felt safe about it, putting restaurateurs in the awful position of having to choose between paying rent or keeping themselves and their staffs safe.

Her pessimism gave me pause and took some of the wind out of my sails. Like many, I’ve been looking forward to the return of outdoor dining at the very least (not yet having wrapped my mind around whether I’d be comfortable dining indoors again).

It’s worth remembering that plenty of other places around the world opened their restaurants back up, only to have to shut them all back down again. Of course, that was before the vaccine, but it was also before there were new strains of the virus marauding around the planet.

While I’m not exactly sure what the right balance between economic viability and restrictions to curb virus transmission should be at this moment, I do know that no matter what happens, I’m going to do what I can to support the restaurant industry. I hope you’ll join me.

Now go call your Senators and order some take-out.

The post If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 2/21/20

Welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included a couple of really pleasurable white wines. The first was a Picpoul Blanc (an unusual grape variety to find anywhere outside its home in southern France) from Two Shepherds winery. It’s crisp and juicy but with a richness of flavor that makes it a bit more serious than you expect it to be when you first put it in your mouth.

The second is a really lovely Chardonnay from the Finger Lakes region of New York, by long-standing producer Ravines. It’s lean and bright and wonderfully elegant, and a steal at only $20.

Two Shepherds also offered up two red wines this week, their Mendocino Carignan, which is made in a crunchy, low-alcohol style and has all the berry and sour goodness you expect from the grape. The other wine is their Pastoral Melange, a really tasty blend of their Carignan and Cinsault. I’m finishing off a glass of this wine (with a bit of chill on it) as I write this, and it’s just an eminently drinkable wine.

I’ve also got a Russian River Pinot Noir from Raeburn cellars this week, which is a classic expression of why Russian River Pinot has been charming wine lovers for decades.

Also mixed in there this week I’ve got a very classic expression of Rioja, courtesy of CVNE, one of the region’s largest and most historical producers, founded in 1879 and family-run for more than 5 generations. Their wines are, as is typical for the region, aged in American oak, giving the wine a very particular flavor profile that some love and some don’t. Personally, I don’t love it, but that can’t stop me from admiring a well-made wine..

We can finish out the week with a bunch of “serious” Cabernet Sauvignons, starting with the third single-parcel effort from Knights Bridge Winery (I reviewed two others recently). Like its siblings, it’s a pretty well-made expression of the form and an excellent standard-bearer for the quality of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon.

I got my first taste of Boich Family Wines this week with their top-of-the-line Beckstoffer To-Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, which is reasonably well made, but not nearly as impressive as it should be given the price tag.

Finally, I was sent the three most recent vintages of Charles Krug Winery’s flagship Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a historic bottling from a historic winery in Napa, and represents their dedication to the Mondavi family heritage that revitalized the winery in the late 1940s. Starting from their very first harvest at the winery in 1944 (the winery itself was originally founded in 1861), the family decided to make a separate bottling of some of its best grapes under the Vintage Selection name (it was actually called Select Cabernet for its first couple of years) and has continued the tradition ever since. These are wines built for long aging, and manage to be pretty balanced despite somewhat elevated alcohol levels.

Tasting Notes

2019 Two Shepherds “Windmill Vineyards” Picpoul Blanc, Yolo County, California
A light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and a touch of seawater. In the mouth, bright lemony and grapefruit citrus flavors are sharp and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. There’s also a hint of candle wax to the flavor and a faintly honeyed richness that is perceived aromatically rather than as any weight on the palate. Nice wet-pavement minerality. Aged for 8 months in 50% stainless steel, and 50% neutral oak puncheons. 12.1% alcohol. 250 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2017 Ravines Chardonnay, Finger Lakes, New York
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, crackling lemon curd and white floral notes have a lovely zing thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint hint of melted butter but this is mostly a citrusy dance party on the palate. Quite delicious. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Two Shepherds “Trimble Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino County, California
A bright medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries and black cherry. In the mouth, juicy, slightly sour black cherry flavors are dusted with powdery tannins that buff the edges of the palate and grow a little more muscular as the tangy red and black fruit lingers with a SweetTart sourness in the finish. Excellent acidity. Made from 45-year-old, organically dry-farmed, head-trained vines. Fermented in neutral oak barrels. 12.18% alcohol. 525 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2019 Two Shepherds “Pastoral Melange” Red Blend, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberries and strawberry jam. In the mouth, juicy bright boysenberry and strawberry flavors have a kick, thanks to excellent acidity, which leaves a SweetTart sourness in the finish that is positively mouthwatering. Hints of herbs add complexity, but this definitely hits the “glou glou” bullseye. A blend of stainless-steel fermented and aged Cinsault and carbonically macerated Carignan fermented in neutral barrels. 11.4% alcohol. 50 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2019 Raeburn Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, bright cranberry and cedar flavors mix with chopped herbs and a touch of sawdust. Excellent acidity keeps things juicy and leaves a citrus-peel brightness in the finish. Faint tannins dust the edges of the mouth. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2015 CVNE “Imperial Reserva” Rioja, Spain
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, leather, and whiskey barrels. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and boysenberry flavors are shot through with the strong coconut sunscreen, bourbon barrel flavors of American oak. Smooth, fine-grained tannins are stretched taut in the mouth, as the wine courses, silky across the palate. Refined and tasty, just too much wood for my taste. Usuall contains a bit of Graciano and Mazuelo, in addition to its primary grape, Tempranillo. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.    

2017 Knights Bridge “Haggerty” Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and a touch of woodsmoke. In the mouth, rich black cherry, sweet pipe tobacco and cocoa powder flavors are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Black cherry and black currant notes linger in the finish with a hint of sagebrush. This wine represents a single-block from the estate vineyard planted with the See clone of Cabernet. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.  

2017 Boich Family Cellar “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and licorice. In the mouth, rich, and slightly sweet black cherry fruit mixes with black currant and cola under a gauzy throw of tannins. Slightly high-toned (a bit too much for my taste), this wine seems to float above the palate a bit, lingering with a somewhat ethereal finish of black currants. 15.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $300. click to buy.         

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 2/21/20

2014 Charles Krug “Vintage Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cola. In the mouth, gorgeously bright, juicy black cherry fruit is melded to a cola and mocha core to the wine. Suede-like tannins wrap around the core of fruit. Contains 2% Petit Verdot. There’s a touch of heat in the finish that betrays the wine’s 15.5% alcohol level. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.

2015 Charles Krug “Vintage Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cassis flavors mix with licorice and blueberries. Suede-like tannins wrap around the core of fruit. Reads as high octane, with some burn in the finish. Tannins flex their muscles for a while in the mouth. Contains 4% Petit Verdot. 15.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $125. click to buy.

2016 Charles Krug “Vintage Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberry with a hint of tobacco. In the mouth, rich black cherry and blackberry are wrapped in a taut muscular fist of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps this wine fairly fresh feeling in the mouth, with the black cherry and cola notes touched by a green herbal quality. Notes of mocha linger in the finish. Nicely balanced. A third of this fruit comes from the winery’s Howell Mountain property. The balance of fruit comes from two vineyards just south of Yountville. 15.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.

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Vinography Images: Early Tendrils

Tendrils of a grapevine unfurl at Covert Estate in the Coombsville AVA of Napa Valley. At the moment, grapevines in the Northern Hemisphere are in their dormancy phase, but as weather warms, growth will restart and the vines will soon be sending out new shoots of growth for another vintage.

Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting “save link as” or “save target as” and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full-size view and drag that to their desktops.

To set the image as your desktop wallpaper, Mac users should follow these instructions, while PC users should follow these.

The work of photographer Jimmy Hayes can be further appreciated in his forthcoming monograph, Veritas, which will be published in 2021 by Abrams Books / Cameron + Company. Pre-order the book from the Abrams web site.

Fine art prints of this image and others are available from Jimmy Hayes Photography.

Vinography regularly features images for readers’ personal use as desktop backgrounds or screen savers. We hope you enjoy them. Please respect the copyright on these images. These images are not to be reposted on any website or blog without the express permission of the photographer.

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OBOCOB Podcast: Lil’ Tweener No. 26

This week, Kern chats about four new (at least to him) podcasts and a few of the cocktails he’s been enjoying.

Remember—One Bourbon, One Chard, or One Beer is a drinking game you can play along with at home. Full details and rules available at www.onebourbononechard.com

If you find yourself liking, singing along to, or playing along with One Bourbon, One Chard, or One Beer, please Please PLEASE rate and review us on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or wherever you found our podcast. It helps other lushes like you find our podcast and to build our community. If you rate and review us and we ever meet you, we’ll buy you one bourbon, one chard, or one beer (our choice).

Also, please support the show by donating to our Patreon page:

Daily Wine News: Cider-Wine Moment

(Source: Wikimedia)

In PUNCH, Dan Pucci explores the crossover between natural wine and cider, and how the crossover has delivered cider’s long-awaited moment. “Natural wine and cider’s relationship is not just relegated to the cellar, either. Regenerative agriculture is taking hold in vineyards around the country as a way to rebuild total ecology, and a lot of the research around best practices comes from the orchard community…”

Nikolay Shevchenko profiles winemaker André Tchelistcheff, who could have been killed in the Russian Civil War but survived to revolutionize the American winemaking industry. “Tchelistcheff pioneered viticulture in the U.S., helping American wine-makers to identify areas in their country that were best for cultivating certain kinds of grapes: he recommended that Pinot Gris be planted in Oregon and Cabernet Sauvignon — in Washington State… Tchelistcheff retired from the now world-famous BV — the Beaulieu Vineyard — in 1973 at the age of 72.”

In Wine Enthusiast, Mekita Rivas talks to wine professionals who contracted Covid-19 about how their loss of smell has impacted their careers.

W. Blake Gray looks at Covid’s impact on wine tasting in Wine-Searcher.

In Decanter, Jane Anson checks in on the 1990 Bordeaux first growths to see how they’re tasting now. (subscription req.)

Ray Isle highlights a handful of the Loire Valley’s natural wine producers in Travel + Leisure.

In Vinous, Eric Guido explores the changing wines of Valpolicella and Soave.

In Meininger’s, Daniel Lopez Roca looks at how Mendoza Malbec has evolved.