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‘Restaurants are sending an SOS to the government for more stimulus ': Restaurant Exec

Tren’ness Woods-Black, Sylvia’s Restaurant VP of Communications and Strategic Partnerships, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss restaurant outlook as the industry prepares for winter.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Well, a deal on stimulus isn't just positive news for the markets. But it's also positive news for businesses, like restaurants, that have really been struggling as lockdowns have forced indoor dining to cease. So for more on this, we are now joined by Tren'ness Woods-Black. She's a VP of communications and strategic partnerships at the historic Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem. Tren'ness, thank you so much for coming back to chat with us. Last time we were talking, you said that you guys were barely keeping your head above water. Wondering if you can let us know how you guys are doing now.

TREN'NESS WOODS-BLACK: Well, I'm very happy to report that things have gotten considerably better for us, mainly because we were able to just do a bit of forecasting, following very closely with what other states were doing that were opened, and just understanding that we have a new model now. And that model now is a quick style of service.

So it's, you know, making sure that we're delivering the best quality food that's consistent, trying desperately to have enough business to bring our employees back, which I'm happy to report that things are pretty good. The summer went much better than we originally had anticipated. The weather played out good.

And overall, we got a lot of support from people wanting to support Black businesses. And usually, what's good for Sylvia's is that we are a destination that people not only in the community come to daily, but people that are looking to take their family road trips, and things of that nature. So we saw a lot of that.

We haven't opened our doors yet for the indoor dining. But we plan to do that momentarily. We were just getting in the last leg of our equipment. So, you know, we're happy to have that 25%. But that's our story. Some of my other friends, the 25% doesn't mean a lot for them, especially when their capacity is small. Our restaurant, we can accommodate a couple of hundred people. So 25% of that, plus our takeout business and delivery, we're good. We're doing much better.

KRISTIN MYERS: So-- well, I mean, that's great news, frankly, to hear that you're doing so well. I do have a question for you. We have winter coming up. And I remember the last time that we had talked, you had mentioned that, listen, outdoor dining is great. But it is, of course, weather dependent. If it rains, people don't want to come. And New York City winters can be pretty brutal. For anyone that lives there, or who has visited. Only 25% of indoor dining is allowed. Wondering, one, if there are concerns for you guys coming up ahead as you think about December, January, February. And two, what is that prep for the outdoor weather looking like?

We're seeing that, you know, so many restaurants and businesses are rushing to buy the heat lamps and all of the other equipment that they're going to need for the outdoor dining. Are you guys seeing, you know, restaurant suppliers sell out? Are you guys struggling to get everything you need for outdoor dining?

TREN'NESS WOODS-BLACK: I mean, listen, by no means has it been easy getting the equipment that we need. I mean, those heaters were selling out like hotcakes. And just trying to balance what you need to purchase towards what you need to hold on to cash-- because we're about to go into the slow season for restaurants. The winter season is slow for most restaurants. And I remember being a young girl and sitting with my grandmother as she would write out checks and do bills.

And she was like, you know, it's really important that we always keep money for after the slow months. Because that's the reason why most businesses close. Because they're not able to afford to pay their taxes and things when business gets really slow. So for us, our take out is strong. And I would suggest for people that are in the industry, number one, just be conservative with your spending. And see what type of negotiating you can do.

But by no means is the industry as a whole out of the woods. You know, we need to know what's in the stimulus package for us. And there should be something. Because the majority of the restaurants in New York City have closed. It's a lot of businesses that closed. I mean, my favorite coffee shop, which is Shut Eye Coffee, hands down, it's just my woosah to start off my day with my matcha. They made it perfectly. And they closed last week. And literally, I was so sad to hear.

But we're all banding together. But please, you know, this is an SOS to the government, we need assistance. You know, we need to know what's going to happen with the PPP that we've already received, whether it's going to be forgivable or not. We need to know what resources are coming down the line so that we can properly prepare and go back to being one of the larger employers in Harlem. The hospitality industry is the backbone of New York City. And the backbone of our country is small businesses. And we deserve-- we deserve just as much attention as the airlines.

Because we're the ones that's taken care of those who want to work close to home, and have a flexible schedule, and then things of nature, and just earn an honest living. And that's what the hospitality industry represents.

KRISTIN MYERS: Well, powerful words there. I didn't even need to ask you a question about stimulus. Because you went right ahead and told us all exactly what you guys need. Tren'ness Woods-Black, VP of communications and strategic partnerships at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem. Thank you so much for joining us. Best of luck for you guys in the future. Thanks for taking this time today.

TREN'NESS WOODS-BLACK: Thank you. Thank you. Cornbread hugs from Harlem.

KRISTIN MYERS: I might come get some cornbread in person at--

TREN'NESS WOODS-BLACK: Come on!