When disasters strike, it’s usually the restaurant community that rallies and picks up the pieces. Hurricane Katrina, forest fires, 9/11, the 2008 economic crisis… the list of events and tragedies we’ve experienced in this country in recent years is long, and every recovery was anchored by chefs and restaurants showing up with our portable gear to do what we do—cook food for people. The simple act of eating in community during crisis is as soul-filling as it gets.
Restaurants have always been gathering places. The word restaurant means to restore, and restaurateurs are therefore “restorers.” That’s what we do: We take care of people; we employ people; we do our best to make shit right, and we love it. We share all the qualities of the middle, youngest, oldest, and only child in a family; we’re scrappy, fierce, and often (most?) times foolish. Who would do what we do, at the frantic pace we do it, with such huge odds stacked against them?
Even during good times, we restaurant people spend our weekends cooking for non-profit events; we donate a sales percentage to almost everyone who asks. Restaurants are embedded in our communities. Restaurant owners and chefs show up more often to help those in crises big and small, and with more caring and compassion, than the federal government. How F’d up is that?
Now, the time has come when our nation’s restaurants need our government to rally and support us. Many restaurants will not survive this. The labor crunch we’ve struggled with for the past few years is now a thing of the past, and the overcrowded restaurant scene in Colorado is about to become quite uncrowded.
Restaurants are shufflers of enormous amounts of cash, too. We are some of the largest sales, property, and employment tax contributors, spenders on goods, and drivers of city-level economics. With a four-percent average profit margin industry-wide, our margins are razor thin. Razor thin. We don’t have large surpluses of cash lying around. An independent restaurant owner’s personal cash flow is the cash that runs the business; when there is cash, you pay yourself. When there is no cash, you pay your employees and vendors, your taxes and rent, and the other host of ledger items that make up a restaurant’s profit and loss statement. Then you hope for a better week next week.
The catastrophic event that is COVID-19 leaves many of us wondering how to get to the other side. Here’s what you can do: Please push your local government representatives and decision-makers to consider aggressive funding to help out workers and struggling small businesses. This crisis is real and it’s gonna leave a mark. We are going to need help from the U.S. government to punch through into the summer and once again be there for our communities in the ways we always have been.
Dave Query is the chef-owner of the Big Red F Restaurant Group, which includes Lola Coastal Mexican, West End Tavern, Centro Mexican Kitchen, the Post Brewing Company, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, and Zolo Grill. Go to our living list to find out which restaurants are currently offering carry out and delivery.