The owners of some of the largest and most influential restaurants in Richmond gathered Monday afternoon to come up with a plan amid the coronavirus crisis.
“All the restaurants got together and said, ‘We have to make it a social obligation to make the right decision and that’s by closing down,’” said Johnny Giavos, who owns nearly a dozen Richmond restaurants and was part of the group.
Chris Tsui — owner of Richmond’s largest local restaurant group, EAT Restaurant Partners — arranged to have an important call-in guest, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
The restaurant owners and Stoney decided that the restaurants would close to dine-in customers effective immediately and, with coming financial help from the city, they’d have enough cash to pay their employees — at least for now.
Stoney plans to introduce the program to the City Council, which would need to approve it, on March 23.
“We have been working since last week and reviewing actions the city could take to support our small businesses, and we are in regular contact with members of the restaurant community and value their input,” said Jim Nolan, a Stoney spokesman. “The mayor spoke with Chris Tsui over the weekend about organizing a call. We will continue to explore additional options to help these businesses during these challenging times.”
Along with Giavos and Tsui, the group included Michelle Williams, who coordinated the meeting, and Jared Golden of the Richmond Restaurant Group; Liz Kincaid of RVA Hospitality, whose restaurants include Tarrant’s Cafe; Manny Mendez of Kuba Kuba; Rueger Restaurant Group, which operates Lunch and Supper; and Patrick Phelan of Longoven.
“We will survive this. It’s hard, but we’re better prepared than most,” said Williams, whose restaurants include The Daily, The Hard Shell, East Coast Provisions and West Coast Provisions. “But we also want the smaller restaurants to be able to bounce back.”
The coming financial help from the city includes an amnesty program for restaurants “for all penalties and interest on most local taxes due between March 13 and June 30,” according to a news release from the city. That includes payment on the city’s meals tax. Those payments are due to the city on the 20th of every month.
The restaurants would still owe the city their March meals tax payment, but removing late fees would allow restaurants to pay the amount down the road without penalties so they can use their existing capital to pay staff and bills in the immediate future.
The city is also considering offering no-interest loans for small businesses, but details on that haven’t been finalized.
The city on Monday also recommended that all restaurants limit on-site service to 50 or fewer guests, remove bar seating, and move tables at least 6 feet apart in order to help combat the spread of coronavirus.
“This measure is taken in an abundance of caution and in the interest of the health of restaurant patrons and staff,” Stoney said in a statement. “I understand that this action will take a toll on small businesses. That’s why we’re providing tax relief and exploring loan program options to support this valued community.”
Chef Brittanny Anderson, who co-owns Brenner Pass, Chairlift and Metzger, said tax relief isn’t enough.
“Payroll tax cuts and meal tax cuts are nice for owners, but they don’t affect the worker as immediately as the other things would, and we need immediate action,” Anderson said.
Anderson, along with her restaurant co-owners and Longoven’s Patrick Phelan, have been working to put together resources for restaurant employees and other hourly workers who are out of work and out of income due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need the state and local governments to approve immediate emergency unemployment benefits for all hospitality workers, as well as mortgage, rent and loan forgiveness (student loans as well), and no utility shutoffs of gas, water and electric,” Anderson said. “It’s a huge ask, but it is what the hundreds of thousands of people who were furloughed or laid off yesterday need in order to continue their lives.”
So far, Richmond and Virginia have stopped short of ordering the shutdown of restaurants and bars. States including Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and Illinois have limited restaurants to takeout and delivery only.
“I urge you to keep ordering takeout and delivery and consider buying gift cards for future use,” Stoney wrote.
Last week, many restaurants announced reduced hours and shared their ramped-up cleaning routines. But by Sunday evening, some restaurant owners decided the best course of action was to temporarily close.
On Monday morning, more than two dozen Richmond restaurants had temporarily closed or suspended dine-in service due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus — including national chains such as Chick-fil-A and Starbucks. By the end of the day Monday, the number of temporarily closed local restaurants was approaching 100.
At least one Richmond restaurant is closing for good.
Citizen, in downtown Richmond, announced Monday that it will shut down permanently, in part due to the impact of the coronavirus. The nearly 10-year-old sandwich shop will close at the end of service Wednesday.