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Danny Meyer: Lawmakers need to pass a stimulus, 'we’re losing restaurants across the country'

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large
·3 mins read

Noted restauranteur and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer pulls no punches on the state of a restaurant industry that has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers need to cut the BS and pass a stimulus plan, like yesterday.

“It’s beyond urgent, this is not a dress rehearsal,” Meyer told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade. “We’re losing restaurants across the country — restaurants are almost insolvent.”

What Meyer and others in the industry want to see passed is the Restaurant Act.

The $120 billion relief package is a grant program that would be handled by the Treasury Department. Restaurants, bars, cafes, caterers, etc. would be eligible for relief that could help workers on the job and rent paid during the seasonally slower winter months.

Without the program, those in the restaurant space believe the sector will continue to be riddled with high-profile bankruptcies and unemployment. This week alone brought the bankruptcy of Ruby Tuesday as empty restaurants following re-openings hammered the struggling chain’s bottom line. Since the pandemic began, Yahoo Finance has tallied 11 bankruptcies in the restaurant industry.

The restaurant shakeout of 2020.
The restaurant shakeout of 2020.

“It’s absolutely critical [we get stimulus] — people are dropping like flies around here,” TGI Fridays CEO Ray Blanchette told The First Trade. Blanchette says he has had to permanently close some restaurants during the pandemic.

As for Meyer — a 30-plus year industry veteran known for his optimism and big ideas — he has to endure a tough few months as well.

Meyer had to close all of his restaurants in New York City and Washington, DC in the spring due to the pandemic-related lockdowns. His catering and events businesses have taken financial hits. In mid-March with minimal revenue coming into the business and concerns about worker safety, Meyer was among the first in the space to lay off workers — some 2,000 in total between restaurants and the corporate office.

But there are glimmers of hope for Meyer.

He has reopened iconic NYC eateries Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe and Blue Smoke for indoor dining (capped at 25% capacity) this month. The locations are at the leading-edge of health and safety protocols, including new air filtration systems.

Even still, Meyer knows it’s still not back to business as usual...far from it.

“Even as 25% occupancy, it’s really safe. Restaurants are 75% empty. That means when you are sitting in a dining room at one of our restaurants you can’t even hear the conversation at the next table even if you tried. It’s a little strange because we are used to the activity and the clinging and clanging of the glasses and silverware at the restaurant,” Meyer said.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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