Independent Restaurant Owners in Ohio

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Dear Governor DeWine:

We independent restaurant owners are reading the news and hearing promises of relief for restaurants in many forms. However, there is a growing worry as to whether concerns have been fully represented, and we want to ensure that our unique needs are being addressed. 

We have followed orders to close our doors to protect our communities, knowing what it would mean for our businesses, and we are grateful as citizens that you were one of the first to foresee that necessity. We did so without protest, and those of us who remain open are providing a valuable service through delivery, despite it being increasingly less profitable (as delivery services infringe on any profit). 

Fact: Grocery stores and other such delivery services are at capacity. Meanwhile, people are homebound (many of whom are in compromised/higher-risk health situations). Independent restaurants are in a position to help! We are, in fact, integral parts of our respective neighborhoods. Our customers not only look to us for sustenance but also for comfort. While gathering is not allowed, delivery from a favorite restaurant doubles as outreach in dark times. We are a trusted neighbor.

We are also some of the most passionate and tenacious entrepreneurs. We open our restaurants because we love food, community and truly believe that we are making the world better one bite at a time. That said, we operate on some of the thinnest margins of any business, crunching numbers in slower months and saving when we’re busier. We also work some of the longest hours. After all, what represents the American Dream more than a successful independently owned restaurant or bar? We are a deeply driven, inspired group—and our restaurants are the lifeblood of communities. 

Fortunately, we’ve seen much success in the last few years, with some of the most prolific restaurant openings in history, along with the expansion of existing restaurants.
The economic growth combined with other factors such as people cooking less at home has been good for our industry. But literally overnight, that all turned upside down. 

None of us could have anticipated this. We have had to close our doors or pivot to take-out and delivery only, something few of us were set up for. Those of us who have managed to stay open have seen our sales drop to unsustainable levels, and layoffs have been unprecedented. 

This is not a sustainable path forward. The reality is that all independent restaurants rely on daily business to stay in business. Without those sales, most of us cannot survive even a month. As you know, most restaurants operate via loans—and those loans are secured personally. Even the most successful restaurants do not qualify for unsecured loans. Meanwhile, owners have depleted their cash reserves for payroll and to buy food as vendors have begun requiring cash on delivery. As you can imagine, people are in anguish over potential default. The fallout is unimaginable, and the ripple effect will be enormous—starting with our employees. 

Most successful restaurants pay their employees according to market forces and what our businesses can sustain. The perception that we underpay our employees is simply not accurate. Recently, we have all had to compete for a limited supply of workers,
so hospitality industry pay has actually increased more than other industries.  

Fact: Right now, many of us are paying our employees before we pay ourselves. Like our customers, our employees are like family, and they are obviously crucial to our business. However, most of them are bearing the brunt of this crisis due to layoffs or cut hours. Tipped employees especially rely on dine-in customers to pay their bills. They cannot wait weeks for relief, as some of the proposals that are underway would require. Many have already lost their healthcare coverage—and there’s not a lot we owners can do about it. Those of us who generally do offer healthcare and paid time off can no longer pay for the healthcare coverage of employees who are no longer employed as we must prioritize payroll and healthcare for the few still scheduled. Paid days off are not possible, either.

Bottom line: From our employees to our vendors and landlords to the burden on the healthcare industry and government, there is not a part of society that will not be touched by this crisis. 

Given these unprecedented challenges, please immediately consider:

Emergency grants for immediate business needs such as payroll and crucial operating expenses including food orders and utilities. 
Commercial and residential rent abatement and a moratorium on evictions both for owners and employees. 
Immediate cash relief for current and laid-off employees.
Abatement of payroll and sales tax.
Temporary commercial and government loan payment relief.

We respectfully appreciate your time and consideration during this crisis.