Associated Press (AP): With loan money gone, restaurants are at mercy of virus

By Joyce M. Rosenberg
Associated Press (AP), August 2, 2020

... Government coronavirus loans in the spring helped eating establishments rehire laid-off employees and ride out the pandemic’s initial surge and wave of shutdown orders.

But that Paycheck Protection Program money has now been spent at many restaurants, leaving them in the same precarious position they were in during outbreak’s early days: Thousands of restaurants are being forced to close down again on mandates from state and local officials combating the virus’s resurgence, particularly in the South and West. And even in parts of the country where the outbreak appears contained, restaurants’ revenue is far below normal because social distancing requirements — and wary diners — mean fewer tables, fewer customers and limited hours.

John Pepper used a PPP loan to pay employees and reopen four of his eight Boloco restaurants when Massachusetts lifted its shutdown order in early May. But with the money spent and business at the restaurants down as much as 70%, Pepper had to again close two locations. The staff of 125 he had before the virus outbreak is down to 50.

“A lot of this is out of our hands at this point,” Pepper says. “At this moment, I don’t see getting my full payroll back.”

Congress is debating another relief bill that potentially will have more help for small businesses, but even with more loan or grant money, restaurants will remain at the mercy of the virus that has decimated their business. ...

The pandemic has devastated an industry that expected to have nearly $900 billion in sales this year. Before the outbreak, the Labor Department counted 12 million workers in restaurants and bars, and nearly two-thirds worked at small businesses with fewer than 500 workers. In April, employment in restaurants and bars of all sizes had been cut by nearly half as establishments across the country were closed. ...

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Copyright 2020 Associated Press

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