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'We are probably doing the most important work we've ever done as a restaurant' says Marcus Samuelsson

Award winning chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson joins Yahoo Finance Live to highlight the impact coronavirus is having on the service industry and how his business has shifted.

Video Transcript

- The restaurant industry has really been the hardest hit and the first hit among many American businesses here as we continue as a society to grapple with the future of all lock down-- try to keep the number of coronavirus cases as low as possible. We're joined now by restaurateur and chef, Marcus Samuelsson. For more on what you are doing, Chef, at your restaurant, Red Rooster, about 40 blocks away from where I'm sitting right now, and just what you're seeing across the industry right now. It's a trying time certainly for the restaurant business and everyone is trying to do best by their staff, which we all know are some of the most vulnerable people in our labor force and are bearing the brunt of this crisis first and hardest.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: Yeah. Well, I mean, the restaurant industry-- you know, neighborhood restaurants are really the soul and heart of neighborhoods, right? We really defined a lot of neighborhoods. And we're also a large employer-- it's 15 million restaurant workers in this country. And right now, I would say 80% or 90% of them are unemployed. So you're talking about 12, 13 million people that don't have a job to go back to. It's going to take a lot of for that to come back to normal.

So for us, it's really what can you do? And living in Harlem, and living in a community and working in communities like Overtown and in Newark, for us, it was really important to partner with World Central Kitchen and provide food for the neediest in our neighborhoods, right? There's already-- before this, there was big food insecurity in our neighborhood. So turning our restaurants into community kitchen became one of the most important things. And we serve about 600 to 700 people a day here in Harlem, and 300 in Newark, and 200 in Miami to the neediest people.

And that has-- you know, it's done a couple of things. We were able to hire back some people right away and do it in the safest way possible, of course. But then also, the supply chain for farmers, for everyone in the restaurant, hospitality business-- it's completely interrupted. So we've be able to get the supply chain back a little bit. And it's just a small way of doing it, but the World Central Kitchen works nationwide and it's one way to really combat this.

The other thing that has happened is obviously, after we're going through this big bill that Congress just passed, we're trying to figure out together with Independent Restaurant Coalition, how did that impact our type of restaurant-- the neighborhood type of restaurant. What loans are available for us. How can we make it easier for the owners, but also for the workers to apply so they can get money and help fast, right?

You know, there's a couple of months of unemployment, sure, and that was great, and that was important. But unemployment is really supposed to hold you over and so you can go back and actually get a job. But three or four months from now, there's not going to be those jobs back. So this is a very complex layered issue. We're grateful for the first tranche, but we definitely need a second tranche.

- Hey, Marcus, you've been closed now for two weeks. And I'm looking at the web site right here-- killing me, man. You know, I mean, love Red Rooster. Just, you know, like, how do you plan? You know, can you-- is it too early to even start to think or when can you start thinking about getting to the other side and opening up?

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: Well, I mean, I appreciate that question. We are-- restaurateurs and chefs, we are dreamers. So I plan every morning. I have to see the light. Although we're in it right now, and I know from a health point of view, thinking about six months down the road-- probably not the most healthiest, but I have to, because we live on hope, you know? I came to this country as an immigrant based on hope.

So hope and dreams is very much what chefs and restauranters-- what makes us-- what makes us happy. So it's important for us to say, hey, I'm going to take this opportunity to renovate their staircase. Although we might not able to do it right away, because what else do we have, right? And the word restaurant, which most people don't know, means to restore your community. And we're not closed-- that's why I want to just push back a little bit on that. We are-- we have a purpose. To that line outside my restaurant today that goes around the corner, we are probably doing the most important work we've ever done as a restaurant. So we're just serving another customer, but we definitely have a purpose.

- Great.

- Is that something-- that purpose, something that could translate to other restaurants, do you think? Or is that something that you're able to do? I mean, you're a celebrity chef, you have a place in New York City. You know, we had Tom Colicchio on last week and he was saying, he doesn't even really think restaurants should be open right now for delivery, because look, the margins aren't great, you don't want to put anybody at risk. So the idea of staying open and having that purpose, though, is so appealing, because everybody is at home or wherever you are-- everybody wants to be doing something. But is that something that only a celebrity chef can do or can other small restaurants do that?

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: I think this is a time where safety has to be first and with World Central Kitchen guidelines, the way we drop off food is very different than the way we would have served you as a guest, right? The food comes in, we drop it on a table, we ask for how many people in your family, and we step back. The person comes up and grabs it with gloves. There are all types of different masks. So we serve in a very different way, right?

But I think everyone can do something. What that is it's very different I think that Tom was actually one of the founding members of Independent Restaurant Coalition. And the work that Tom and Danny and a lot of people are doing behind the scenes is extremely important. You will be-- the silver lining here is that the hospitality community has a collaborating and we're going to come out very different, right? We're going to come out very strong, because we're collaborating behind the scenes. And leaders like Tom and Danny goes out there every morning and talk about that.

But we also are pushing for law changes, because where would America be without restaurants and restaurant workers? You know, it's not just something cute and important in the neighborhood-- it's also 50 million Americans that work in restaurants. And where a restaurant goes away, so goes all small businesses. What's going to happen to the barbershop, what's going to happen to the deli around the corner? Those are all retailers, right? So I just-- we don't only fight just for restaurant-- it's all small businesses, which is probably the biggest sector of employers in America right now.

We don't have great lobbyists the way the big companies are, but we are definitely the engine that keeps this country going. And it's very hard because we're not united in that sense, right? We're talking about the bill-- I'm not-- I'm not-- you know, I'm not surprised that the big corporations again are being helped out, because we know the fact-- because they have the best lobbyists, right? No one talks about the reality. That is the reality. Everyone knows that.

- All right, Marcus Samuelsson, thank you so much for joining us. I'll take your hopeful message on the future of your restaurant and so many others. There will be another side of this. Really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us on this Monday afternoon.