Restaurateur Bobby Stuckey warns that the closure of restaurants will deal a blow to the American economy that we haven’t seen in ages—and we may not be able to recover from it.

By Bobby Stuckey
April 08, 2020
Advertisement
Courtesy of Frasca Hospitality Group

Editor’s note: Communal Table, a forum for amplifying first-person voices in the food industry. Our goal is to work long term with leaders to create more humane and sustainable workplaces. Sign up for the F&W Pro newsletter.

Bobby Stuckey is co-founder of Frasca Food and Wine, Pizzeria Locale, and Scarpetta Wine Company.

A few weeks ago, we watched the restaurant industry crumble. Seven million jobs lost almost overnight. We find ourselves in this situation not because we did anything wrong, but because it was the right thing to do. We support our state’s leadership. We closed for the safety of our team and we closed for the safety of everyone reading this. But when we closed our four restaurants, the government didn’t have a back-up plan for us, and American insurance companies wouldn’t pay out for business interruption insurance.

As soon as closure became an imminent reality, we reached out to our insurance company who we’ve paid hefty premiums to year after year after year. We were met with a hard and fast “no” for myriad reasons of attempted exclusions, one being that the virus does not cause a dangerous condition to the property. Of course we disagreed with this. To my knowledge, I do not know of one policy payer in the U.S. that got business interruption insurance because of this.

Restaurants are a keystone species— a species on which others in an ecosystem largely depend. If it were removed, the ecosystem would change drastically, or even collapse. Replace the word "ecosystem" with "economy" in this case, and you will understand the gravity of the situation.

Tens of millions of jobs will vanish right behind ours. The restaurant industry directly employs tens of millions more people including the farmers, packers, beverage distributors, and delivery people up and down the food supply and delivery chain who depend on our revenue to stay in business. If we can’t open for business, this supply chain won’t last.

I’ve now heard both sides of the aisle talk about how they wish manufacturing was back in the United States. If you grew up in the '50s like my father-in-law, you may still long for the days of the glorified manufacturing job. It was for anyone willing to work, it was the lifeblood of a community, and it was a gateway to the American Dream. The 2020 version of the manufacturing industry is the independent restaurant. Every city in America has them. In every city, they contribute immensely to the local economy. Independent restaurants are the second-largest employer (next to the federal government), employing 11 million people. We are too small and too many to fail.

America today is a service-based economy. We are no longer manufacturing-based. And it’s time we treated independent restaurants with the same respect as yesterday's manufacturing jobs.

Today’s restaurant job embodies the American spirit. We’re the first choice, the second choice and the third choice of employment.

If you’ve just come to America and don’t speak the language, we welcome you into our industry.

If you are someone who made a mistake and have a felony on your record, you have a place in American society with us.

If another industry you were in comes across hard times (do you remember 2008?) and you lose your job as a professor or a pharmaceutical sales rep, you can come work with us.

Independent restaurants contribute up to 4% of the GDP and are part of a $1 trillion sector of the economy. Our closure will deal a blow to the American economy that we haven’t seen in ages.

To make our voices heard, we formed the Independent Restaurant Coalition consisting of over 11,000 individuals, many of whom are chefs and restaurant owners across the country. We’re too small to fail, and too interwoven into the fabric of American labor to not come out on the other side of this.

Historically, independent restaurant owners have never needed anything from the government. We’ve been able to do it on our own. We’ve never had a unified representation in D.C. We opened our restaurants, put the linens on the table, hired our employees and provided them with a living all on our own.

In 2008, there was no bailout package for the independent restaurant community; we quietly just pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps and continued to work. In fact, we provided a backstop for people who lost jobs. We’re resilient, but we’re not impervious to today’s crisis. It feels more painful this time around because we got closed. Some of the greatest Fortune 500 companies in the world couldn’t sustain being closed for two months.

The recent passage of the CARES Act gave us a morsel of relief. We will do the best we can with it. But it’s not enough. Until we receive more help from Congress, we have nowhere to go and no restaurants to return to. And without us, you will watch an economic ecosystem collapse.