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Independent restaurants are ‘about to experience an extinction event’: Chef Andrew Zimmern

Chef Andrew Zimmern joined Yahoo Finance to discuss Food insecurity amid covid-19.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ADAM SHAPIRO: Marcus Samuelsson was on "Yahoo Finance Live" this morning talking about food insecurity. Let's listen to what he had to say.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: This is by far the hardest time that I've ever been and our industry is going through, right? So there's all types of restaurants, but independent restaurants and Black and BIPOC restaurants are, you know, the ones that are hit the most.

This is a-- this will be a very, very difficult winter. But, you know, safety is number one, so that's the most important thing. And we've just got to navigate. We've just got to hold on and navigate.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So that's the viewpoint from a celebrity chef, but let's bring into this stream somebody who also understands this because food insecurity is just one issue as we deal with COVID cases surging and the economy trying to regain its footing. Joining us now, Chef Andrew Zimmern as part of our Food Insecurity in America sales sponsored by CIT. Thank you for joining us.

There's nothing more heartbreaking when you live in a city like Chicago or right here in New York where you just-- you're used to seeing a restaurant literally every other storefront, and now you see them boarded up. And Congress has this act that they could do something to help, you know, our fellow citizens who make their living in restaurants that are losing their jobs, and Congress has not acted. What do you want people watching to know?

ANDREW ZIMMERN: I want people to understand that we're in the middle of a national pandemic. We're in the middle of a national culture war, and Americans are starving because we're not addressing either one. And one of the largest business tent polls in the country is about to experience an extinction event, and that's restaurants.

Independent restaurants taken collectively-- not chains, independent restaurants-- are a trillion-dollar-plus piece of our economy. They represent almost 5% of GDP, and they employ about 13 million people. We currently represent restaurant workers, the number-one category of worker on the unemployment lines. And entrepreneurs who own restaurants pivoted, pivoted, pivoted all summer long. And now with winter coming, the spike and surges in C-19, the mandatory closures, the obligatory closures that we feel are necessary because we're custodians of the public health puts a bold, orange underline on the urgency to pass the Restaurants Act, which is on Mitch McConnell's desk, and it has to be done now.

It's $120 billion. Independent agencies all over the country from the US Chamber of Commerce to the Office of Management and Budget have all agreed that if that stimulus package, that relief package for restaurants does not go through, it's going to cost taxpayers $270 billion in the first year alone. We can't afford not to backstop these vital businesses that really do so much for Main Street USA.

JEN ROGERS: I think we all have a favorite restaurant or a neighborhood restaurant-- you know, because most of us are in New York-- that's already closed. And along with that go the workers, and I think that that brings up the food-insecurity issue that we have seen. As with any recession, right, it goes up. But we are seeing restaurant workers in particular being hit here, kind of low-income workers that for the very first time are finding themselves in a food line at a food pantry trying to get food.

What is the role-- because restaurants have supply chains. They have sometimes access to food. Is there a way to be able to address the food-insecurity issue through restaurants, do you think?

ANDREW ZIMMERN: Well, there are a whole incredible range of solutions. And essentially what has to happen is the federal government, you know, 9, 10 months, you know, down the road since, you know, this first broke at the end of February, beginning of March, has to come up with a cogent strategy-- not a series of Band-Aids but a cogent strategy to provide relief to not only small businesses but to individuals. It comes down to money. It comes down to leadership in Washington.

The safety, health, and welfare of the people are the federal government's primary role. And if they don't understand that this is a part of that, then we are way worse off than-- this is not a political football. This is not left or right. This is not red or blue. This is about the safety of human beings. This is about the health and welfare of our citizens.

Restaurants could be dropping-off points for food. We could turn them into community kitchens. Many chefs and entrepreneurs already have. Before more restaurants go out of business-- and we're seeing, you know, thousands go out of business almost every day. We are looking at an 80% extinction event for restaurants if we do nothing between now and the end of January.

If we're able to keep lights on in some of these businesses, they can be vital hubs in feeding people during what we know is going to be an extremely difficult December, January, and February here in America. No matter what the timetable is on vaccines and therapeutics, the vast majority of Americans are in a lot of trouble over the next 90 days.

We have seen 145% jump in the food shelves' requests for food. It has been communicated to me that those numbers may double again between now and right after the 1st of the year. The majority of workers in restaurants and in many small businesses across the United States, they are first-time job seekers, immigrants, returning citizens from jails and institutions, last-time job seekers, single moms and dads.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All of us have a story about--

ANDREW ZIMMERN: We have to protect them.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All of us have a story. You know, one of my very first jobs was Danton Diner. I was a dishwasher in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, when I was a teenager. All of us can relate to this, and we wish the best for our, you know, fellow citizens in the restaurant industry.

Chef Andrew Zimmern, thank you so much for joining us. We'll be right back.