More Vermont restaurants are saying they are not going to survive if Gov. Phil Scott’s coronavirus-related economic restrictions continue much longer.
Under current restrictions, restaurants and bars can have outdoor seating, and customers must be spaced apart according to social distancing guidelines. Indoor dining is limited to 25 percent of legal capacity under state rules as of June 8.
Carol Paquette, the owner of Sarducci’s Italian Restaurant in Montpelier, told True North the governor’s restrictions are making it hard to earn a profit.
“It’s not what we were built to be. We were built to have a restaurant with the tables all full, and now they are not,” she said. “It’s very strange, and the four tables are wonderful [for outside] but they are full all day.”
“We’re doing what we can, and it’s like being in a dream — that’s what it feels like. All of a sudden I woke up in a bad dream and it never went away.”
Like many other businesses in the state, Sarducci’s had to lay off most of its staff, except for the chef, some kitchen crew and two managers.
Asked if the shutdown initiatives from the governor seem sensible given that the coronavirus has turned out to be far less lethal than was initially predicted, Paquette said that’s a tough call.
“I think he is doing the best he can with the best education and staff that he has,” she said. “Right now we are doing everything like wearing gloves and masks. I’ve got guys in a hundred degree kitchen wearing masks and all of the rest of us are having our masks. If it means that we’re not going to have another breakout, then I’m happy to do it.”
Emily Cook, who helps run Royalton Village Pizza in Royalton, said the business is doing OK, but the partial-opening currently allowed by executive order doesn’t really help much.
“The new guidelines, we can’t do anything with those,” she said. “Twenty-five percent capacity is two tables, so it’s not worth kicking our kids out of the dining room to have two tables fill up. So we just keep plugging away doing what we’re doing.”
She said currently staff bring orders outside and set them on the table, and most of the payments are transacted over the phone.
Cook said she agrees with the governor’s slow, cautious approach to opening the state back up for business.
“I don’t think it’s too soon; I think that what the governor is doing is safe,” she said. “I think that waiting to see how Memorial Day played out is good. I also think [it’s good to see] how the groups gathering together for the protests … pans out with COVID.”
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Asked about how restaurants are surviving hardships, Maggie Wilson, communications director for the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, said they need everyone’s support.
“Restaurants and small businesses across Vermont need help to survive the impact of COVID-19,” she said in an email. “Listening to our state’s restaurants and supporting their needs during these challenging times will help keep our communities healthy in the long term.”
Last month the Vermont Restaurant Coalition put out a petition calling for grant support to help the industry survive. The group has gathered more than 7,000 signatures.
On the petition are photos of restaurant workers holding signs that read “#Don’t86Us.” A Twitter user posted a message about opening again using the hashtag.
The restaurant-food service industry has been using cleanliness/sanitation procedures for waaaay longer than recent Covid guidelines. We are ingrained in food safety and it’s essential to our business. Let us open, we’ve done this before. #dont86us
— Beertender again, finally! (@802beertender) May 14, 2020
According to an April study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, about 30 percent of business owners expect to survive if the shutdowns persist another four months. If the restrictions last beyond six months, the state could lose 85 percent of its restaurants.
The petition by the Vermont Restaurant Coalition expresses urgency: “We are here to let you know that the Vermont Restaurant Industry is in crisis and we need your support. Without easily accessible direct aid many restaurants will close permanently.”
In Bethel, Maine, restaurant owner Rick Savage, who runs the Sunday River Brewing Co., says he’s had enough of the shutdown and it’s time to reopen, with or without his governor’s blessing.
“We’ve had enough of it, we’re encouraging all businesses in Maine to open up,” he said. “We should have never been shut down in the first place.”
In Colorado, a restaurant called Castle Rock reopened against its state’s shutdown orders.
“We are standing for America, small businesses, the Constitution and against the overreach of our governor in Colorado!!” they restaurant owners posted on Twitter.