Gov. Andy Beshear has once again set his sights on Kentucky’s service industry.
On Wednesday, Beshear again rolled out restrictions meant to stem the tide of COVID-19 by shutting down schools, in-person dining and beverage consumption as well as limiting gatherings and occupancy percentages.
The governor announced that he would dedicate $40 million in CARES ACT funding to provide small and locally-owned businesses that are not publicly traded or receive 50% of the sales via drive-thru the opportunity to apply for up to $20,000 to help with expenses.
David Haynes, who owns Brew Bridge and opened the establishment in March, said that while he will apply for the grant, he doesn’t anticipate receiving it.
“We knew this was coming,” he said. “We weren’t shocked or surprised and understand why. We are used to rolling with the punches at this point. We know how to take them and have learned that you have to do things moving forward to the best of your ability. We will apply for that $10,000, but we don’t count on that. Right now, my concern is staff. ... Luckily we have our heated back and upper deck patios, so hopefully, we can stay busy outside and not have to cut anyone.”
Employees are also a concern for Moonlite BBQ Inn. The Owensboro establishment may have to cut 40 positions, said Patrick Bosley, Moonlite corporate vice president.
“It is going to be a challenge,” he said. “We are all in the same storm and on different boats. We have already burned through our cash reserves and are borrowing money to pay bills, which isn’t sustainable, but we will be able to come out of this as Moonlite BBQ. Other restaurants won’t be as fortunate.
“We are anticipating having to lay 40 people off. The first time there was payroll protection, which was helpful. This time there is nothing. I don’t have a lot of positive things to say about it. We have career employees that have been here for 15 years or more, so our primary focus is staying in business so that our employees have a job to come back to.”
Like Moonlite and The Brew Bridge, Colby’s Fine Food & Spirits and Colby’s Deli & Cafe owner Carole MacQuarrie is reverting to COVID protocols and has hopes that she will not have to lay anyone off, she said.
“We will have our patios open with heaters at both restaurants as well as our curbside pickup,” she said. “It would have been nice to have a few more days’ notice and to have the weekend be open so we could better prepare our customers and staff for the changes, but we will do what we have to do. I can say that we will not be laying anyone off and we hope the governor will reinstate what we are currently doing after Dec. 13. His decisions are perplexing, but we are open, we are going to stay open, not lay anyone off and continue to take care of our customers.”
A consistent gripe among state legislators Rep. Suzanne Miles, an Owensboro Republican; and Sen Matt Castlen, an Owensboro Republican; along with other state representatives, is that Beshear has not only been uncommunicative in his decision-making process but lacks the data to back his mandates.
This lack of communication and substantive data has also been an obstacle for restaurant owners and members of the service industry, said Stacey Roof, president and CEO of the Kentucky Restaurant Association.
“Going into this, I assumed that there would be business groups formed to advise on what is needed,” she said. “That didn’t happen. This is not a situation where we have been asked to weigh in or consult on how these decisions affect our people. A prime example is why shut down at 5 p.m. on a Friday? These restaurants have already purchased product and have their staff ready for the weekend, which is their best time to sell food and beverage. Why not start on a Sunday instead of depriving everyone of that vital income? These decisions would go a lot further in helping the industry if they felt supported as opposed to singled out.”
Going into 2020, the service industry accounted for 205,000 jobs, making it a roughly $9.2 billion industry and second in employment in the state behind health care.
While there seems to be a perception that restaurants and bars are coronavirus hot spots, there has been no data presented by the governor’s office to support focusing on the industry as a point of concern, she said.
“We would like to see the data of all the cases in this state and where they are coming from,” she said. “We haven’t seen it because those numbers probably don’t exist. In states that do have those numbers broken down, restaurants make up a tiny percentage of the overall cases. Another major issue is that on the contact tracing sheets there is only one box that reads restaurants — there is no differentiation. So those people that may have done curbside or drive thru would check restaurant, even if they were not inside of one. I’m not a scientist, but how you ask the question determines the data you get.”
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, firstname.lastname@example.org