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The Independent Restaurant Coalition, an organization founded during the coronavirus outbreak by well-known restaurateurs including “Top Chef” head judge Tom Colicchio, gathered 5,000 signatures for a letter sent to congressional leadership Monday asking for more help in the next round of relief legislation.
The letter asks lawmakers to create a Restaurant Stabilization Fund, enact tax rebates for the small restaurants that survive the crisis, and make changes to business interruption insurance, which in many cases doesn’t cover the affects of the global pandemic.
The group is also looking for fixes to the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which businesses across various sectors have said is under-funded, too restrictive, or too confusing. James Beard Award-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy said on the call with reporters that restaurant owners were left wondering how they fit in to it.
The Paycheck Protection Program, designed to enable employers to pay their workers, “is a flawed program when it comes to businesses who’ve already shut down, which the majority of us have,” she said. Even restaurants offering take-out and delivery options, she noted, have retained a fraction of their original staff because they are only bringing in 10% or 15% of the revenue they once did.
The group is working to save “mom and pop” restaurants and for “the recent immigrant who saved all their money and opened up a small restaurant,” Colicchio said. They want to ensure, he said, that “we all have a business to return to. And not just for the sake of having a business, but because we know that restaurants are the anchors in so many communities.”
“We want to make sure that once we get through this that our cultural institutions, in which restaurants are a huge part of that, that we’re here because I think emotionally we’re all gonna need that place to go to, that place where — as they say — everybody knows your name,” he said.
Last month, the coalition unsuccessfully advocated an income replacement program that would allow restaurants to receive the amount of revenue they had the previous year, allowing them to pay overhead costs — including their staff and vendors — and to open up as community kitchens.
They hired Thorn Run Partners to lobby on their behalf and are using existing connections to “educate” members about how the needs of small and independent restaurants are different.
“We’re chefs and owners who were used to working 15 or 16 hours a day, and we’re all now unemployed,” Pomeroy said. “So we have time to focus on trying to get our places up and running again.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org