On the brink of collapse, restaurants desperate for more federal help

Posted at 11:37 AM, Sep 08, 2020

The clock is ticking for restaurants across the country that are starving for cash and desperate for another round of aid from the federal government, as an estimated 16,000 restaurants have already closed since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

For Kari Kuelzer, who owns Grendel's restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the burden of keeping her small business open in particularly heavy. This dive bar located just blocks away from Harvard University was first opened by her parents in 1971 and has been a fixture for both students, locals and tourists who visit the area.

But without another round of federal aid, Kuelzer is uncertain what the future of Grendel's looks like.

"The dominoes are going to fall. Without some kind of support, some kind of stimulus, all facets of the economy are going to struggle and it’s needless," she said while standing in the kitchen of Grendel's.

Like restaurant owners around the country, this 50-year-old business owner has tried to get creative, from outdoor screened-in pods for dining to a new line of to-go cocktails and trail mix. Kuelzer knows, though, mixed drinks aren’t going to keep her afloat forever.

"We need more forgivable loans," she said.

Politicians in Washington are at a stalemate over another round of funding, something especially troubling to Kuelzer, who saw an immediate impact from those first round of stimulus checks.

"The moment people started getting their unemployment stimulus checks, we saw an uptick in business,” she recalled. “The minute it went away, we saw it fall down.”

Sean Kennedy with the National Restaurant Association says Congress needs to step in to help the nation's restaurants that employ nearly 15.6 million people across the country.

"The restaurant industry is in a unique challenge. We were the first to shut down and we’ll be the last to recover,” Kennedy said. “What’s clear is we need a more long-term, far-reaching approach from the federal government or restaurants are going to survive.”

Historically, restaurants have the lowest amount of cash on hand compared to any industry in the country. Most restaurants only have enough cash to get by for 16 days, and nationwide, more than 100,000 restaurants have had to shut down for a second time.

"We’ve lost more jobs and more revenue than any of industry. That needs to be an alarm bell," Kennedy said.

As for restaurant owners like Kuelzer, she'll keep trying to reinvent a recipe for survival, knowing her family's legacy is on the line.

"We really will need to have some assurances; we’ll get some government assistance," she said.