The governor’s new ban on indoor dining in restaurants will mean a financial toll for many businesses, and it’s a particular blow for new restaurants. Gov. Jay Inslee announced the new restrictions on Sunday as coronavirus cases have hit a new peak in the state.
Christina Hernandez and Natural Allah are co-owners of Essence Lounge in Tacoma’s North End neighborhood. The restaurant, which offers American soul food and Puerto Rican, Cuban and Peruvian dishes, opened in January of this year, just weeks before the pandemic hit.
Hernandez and Allah had to close the lounge side of their business and lay off about eight people. They’ve recently been operating at 50 percent capacity for indoor dining and offering takeout. Hernandez said scaling back to just takeout is a big financial hit.
“With every order, it’s a blessing and everyone that walks in and calls and orders, we are eternally grateful, so this time around it’s just heartbreaking all over again,” she said.
Hernandez said her restaurant was not eligible for grants or loans because they were not operating last year and therefore did not have 2019 tax records to submit. She said she understands the need to control the virus, but she’s hoping for some kind of support for restaurants like hers.
Many restaurants are just barely hanging on. Anthony Anton, president and chief executive of the Washington Hospitality Association, said the governor’s ban on indoor dining in restaurants until mid-December could spell the end for some eating establishments. He said full-service restaurants that do not have a drive-through are most vulnerable.
“I hate to say this because I love the industry more than I can express, but the right decision for many will be to close because I don’t think anyone can guarantee right now that this will be just four weeks,” he said.
Inslee has said the state will provide $50 million in federal aid to mitigate the impacts on businesses and workers. Anton said he has not seen details of that plan yet, but he said the total amount of lost revenue for Washington restaurants over the next four weeks could be much more than what the governor is proposing in assistance. He said Congress needs to come together with a bipartisan solution to help restaurants weather the financial impact of the pandemic.