While one group of restaurant owners has filed suit over St. Louis County’s four-week suspension of indoor dining during the current surge of COVID-19 cases, a separate, smaller group has taken to social media with a less confrontational message for County Executive Sam Page: Talk to us.
A video released online Wednesday features owners and employees from Cobalt Smoke & Sea, Cafe Napoli, Herbie’s, Walnut Grill, and Wildwood Pub & Grill discussing the consequences of a prolonged dining-room shutdown.
“If our restaurants are shut down for more than four weeks, our restaurant community will never bounce back,” Cobalt Smoke & Sea owner Bernadette Faasen says at the beginning of the video.
Later, Wildwood Pub & Grill chef Jordan Krussel says, “It is a strong possibility that I could be homeless.”
The video features the hashtags #StaySafeStayOpen and #SaveRestaurants.
Herbie’s owner Aaron Teitelbaum tells Off the Menu the group doesn’t want to put Page on the defensive.
“We want to be there to support him and his decisions with ideas and solutions for restaurants and employees when he does have these shutdowns, as opposed to coming out and, you know, you have a shutdown, and then there's nothing,” he says.
At the bare minimum, Teitelbaum says restaurants could provide questions — for example, about patio rules — that Page would be able to answer when announcing restrictions.
“All of those things could be done in advance so that there's no confusion, and at least (we can) be a support to him and an advocate,” he says.
Doug Moore, spokesperson for County Executive Page, says, ”We have made a commitment to work with restaurants to hear their concerns and see if there's a way that we can help them safely moving forward.”
The county on Thursday announced the release of an additional $3 million in federal relief funds for restaurants and small businesses.
"So, yes, we are certainly open to meeting with them," Moore says. "And our health director, whose department is leading the response on COVID, has already committed to doing that."
Moore thinks it's a matter of working out the details of a meeting.
For Teitelbaum, one of the most difficult parts of the latest suspension of indoor dining is that it came without solutions for the restaurants or their employees.
“I'm not going to go hungry tonight, personally,” he says. “But in a week or two, if I have an employee that lives paycheck to paycheck, (and) they're not getting a paycheck, and they're getting 300 bucks a week (unemployment) — and not even right away — they might go hungry.”
Teitelbaum says between 25% and 30% of Herbie’s staff has been furloughed during this current dining-room shutdown. The restaurant’s sales this week are down 70% from last week.
No magic formula of dine-in (where allowed), takeout and delivery service fits every restaurant trying to muddle through these dire circumstances.