RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Restaurant owners struggling to stay open during the latest COVID-19 surge urged Congress on Thursday to provide more funding for a relief program targeted to their industry.
Angela Salamanca opened Centro Mexican Restaurant in downtown Raleigh in 2007, but the pandemic has brought challenges unlike any she’s experienced before.
“It’ll be our quinceanera this year if we make it,” she said. “Running a business with so much uncertainty is really, really hard. It’s not just hard financially. It’s hard emotionally.”
She had to close her business for the weekend after a COVID-19 outbreak among staff in the kitchen. She already has reduced the number of days they’re open and only operates during one shift a day.
“Keep at it. We’re almost around the corner. And then delta comes and then omicron comes. We don’t know what’s gonna happen in the next three months. So, that’s what makes it hard to say I don’t know if we’re gonna make it to September,” she said.
She was among a group of restaurant owners who met with Rep. Deborah Ross (D-NC 2nd) as she tries to build support for including funding targeted to the restaurant industry as federal lawmakers debate what to include in the budget.
“It may be too little too late,” she said. “My biggest concern is this omicron variant and that some of the restaurants just might not be able to make it through the winter.”
In a letter co-signed by other members of the state’s congressional delegation to House Democratic leadership this week, Ross noted more than 6,600 restaurants and bars in North Carolina applied for funding through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. However, 40 percent of them were unable to get any money before it ran out.
Additionally, they noted the restaurant industry in North Carolina is down by more than 26,000 workers compared to just before the pandemic began.
“Hiring the right people, it’s hard when the good times are here. So, hiring the right fit when there’s a labor shortage, it’s really difficult,” Salamanca said.
Cheetie Kumar, a chef and co-owner of Garland in Raleigh, said she’d also like to see funding for paid sick leave. She said she’s providing that for her employees, but her business is operating at a loss.
“Making this a career for them is inspiring and it continues to be the thing that is our guiding light. But, everything else about it is just plain awful,” she said. “If it’s not the financial stress, it’s the health worry of everybody on our team.”
She had to close on New Year’s Eve due to positive cases, pointing out it’s “the biggest night of the year” for her.
“Dismay is a good word. Forlorn. Downtrodden,” she said. “We all thought this was gonna be six weeks and here we are 22 months later, and it’s not really getting easier. It’s getting harder.”
The National Restaurant Association this week called on Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, releasing a survey that shows nearly half of the restaurant owners who did not previously receive an RRF grant don’t think they’ll be able to stay in businesses beyond the pandemic without one.
The group also noted 88 percent of restaurant owners reported a decrease in demand for dining on-site due to the omicron variant.
“Our business was not built to work in the conditions that we are currently working in,” Salamanca said. “We are doing the best that we can but it’s really a struggle still.”