‘Apocalyptically bad’: Even without dining restrictions, restaurants need more help to survive pandemic

Restaurants are again facing indoor dining restrictions after the governor implemented new measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, but at least one restaurant owner insists the restrictions are not what is killing business.

James Whittaker, who co-owns Bellevue Brewing Company, said his business is currently at 27.4 percent of the revenue they had last year, calling the pandemic’s effect on business “apocalyptically bad.” Still, he doesn’t take issue with the shutdowns, saying that they see business die long before the governor implements shutdown orders.

“It’s not the shutdown that keeps people from going to restaurants, it’s their fear of the virus,” Whittaker said. “What is ultimately going to save us is getting this pandemic under control so that people feel comfortable going out to eat again.”

When it comes to business, Whittaker said it is actually easier to be shut down, as opposed to being open with few customers willing to come in and higher overhead costs. Still, that means he can’t support a full payroll. 

“This is the thing that’s so heartbreaking about owing restaurant at a time like this is when we’re shut down, the business itself is actually better off but the employees are not,” he said. “And so they have to go on unemployment because there’s literally nothing for them to do.”

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Whittaker said in June, his business secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government and he was able to rehire employees. Those funds lasted until September, he said. Congress has yet to approve additional funding for small business relief despite months of debate and worsening pandemic conditions. 

He said what is currently saving his restaurant right now are the loyal customers who are buying gift cards for future use and brewery memberships paid in advance, and he vowed that Bellevue Brewing Company will survive the pandemic.

But he had a stern message for politicians to “get off the golf course” and talk to each other for the sake of everyone’s livelihoods and safety.

“Understand that this economy isn’t this robotic thing you can talk about,” he said, directing his message to politicians. “The economy is a bunch of people who aren’t making any money. The restaurant economy depends on people willing to eat out. Make those people feel comfortable, give them some confidence, because we’re dying here.”