SALT LAKE CITY — Small business owners said they are worried about how long their restaurants can endure empty chairs and tables as Gov. Gary Herbert released the state’s plan to combat the coronavirus and its impact on the health of individuals and the economy.
If you’ve been to Ginger Street in downtown Salt Lake City, you know it has the sights, sounds, flavor and just about everything else you need for an enjoyable night out. Everything, that is, but people.
“These dining rooms are a sad sight when they’re empty,” said Michael McHenry, founder of The McHenry Group which owns Ginger Street, Oak Wood Fire Kitchen in Draper and Dirty Bird in Provo.
But one week into the state’s “no dine-in” order and restaurants like these are struggling, during what McHenry said would otherwise be one of the busiest times of the year.
“Three weeks ago every restauranteur I know was revving up in our market,” he said. “Like this is our time to thrive!”
Instead, he said the concerns surrounding the coronavirus and the efforts to slow its spread have “removed two-thirds of [the industry’s revenue] overnight.” He’s had to lay off more than 60% of his employees at his three restaurants.
“Devastating is the best way to put it,” McHenry said. “Right now, for us, it’s every hour. It’s inside of the hour.”
McHenry called on state leaders to do more for small businesses and to do it quickly. In his opinion, “if we don’t figure out a way to stimulate business…I think we’re going to see ourselves walk straight into a recession.”
In his first-ever virtual press conference, Herbert announced what he called “the most comprehensive plan” to combat COVID-19 in the country.
The plan is broken into three phases. The current “urgent” phase started March 16 and is estimated to last eight to 12 weeks. That’s followed by the “stabilization” phase for 10 to 14 weeks and then the “recovery” phase for eight to 10 weeks.
“The plan we have here is not any guarantee, but it certainly has goals we can achieve, and I believe gives us a pathway to success in our state,” Herbert said. “This plan will only work if everyone participates…I encourage everyone to read it and understand it”
“It’s going to be hard to navigate,” said Andrew Smith, managing partner at Mercato Savory Fund, which has 45 restaurants in Utah. “I am absolutely behind slowing the spread. There’s a way to slow the spread but continue business going. The economy still has to roll.”
Smith and McHenry said they’re worried about how long their restaurants can endure empty chairs and tables – and the estimated eight to 12 weeks for this first phase didn’t help calm concerns.
If there’s one thing I can say right now — order takeout. Order delivery, because you’re supporting us.
–Michael McHenry, The McHenry Group
“I think you’re going to have individuals bowing out. I think it increases some fears although I think there’s reality to it,” McHenry said.
The state’s plan calls for Utahns do to three things: follow health guidelines, stay engaged with the economy and assist those in need. McHenry can only hope people don’t allow slowing the spread of the virus, to slow their practice of eating out.
“If there’s one thing I can say right now — order takeout. Order delivery, because you’re supporting us. You’re keeping people employed during this pandemic that need it more than ever,” he said.