In a show of support for presidential candidate Joe Biden, more than 150 chefs and restaurant owners across the country signed an open letter condemning President Donald Trump’s handling of COVID-19, which, they say, created an “existential crisis” for restaurants. The letter, titled “Restaurants for Biden,” and released by the Biden campaign, details how conflicting information from government officials and the president, as well as the shortcomings of the PPP loan program, personal protective equipment shortages, and “arbitrary social distancing capacity cap guidance,” created a perfect storm that put “the prospect of a recovery into an even deeper hole.”
Included on the list of signatories are dozens of respected and well known chefs whose restaurants and bars represent both fine dining and more casual establishments. Among the signers are celebrity chef Elizabeth Falkner, television star and baker Duff Goldman, chef and cookbook author Anita Lo, Nina Compton of Compère Lapin in New Orleans, Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco, and Fran Camaj, owner of the Los Angeles-based Gjelina restaurant group. A number of the chefs and owners who signed the open letter helm restaurants that have notably closed — either temporarily or for good — during the pandemic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, independently owned and operated restaurants have been regularly overlooked and ignored by the federal government, receiving little — if anything — in the way of clear guidance or financial support. When President Donald Trump met with a group of restaurateurs in mid-May at a roundtable event to discuss extending and modifying the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the attending restaurant owners and CEOs were notably all male, mostly white, and almost exclusively represented the interests of major companies and fine dining restaurants. Earlier, in April, the White House brought together a similarly limited group of fast food CEOs and fine dining chefs to advise on a plan to support the restaurant industry.
The PPP loan program that the CEOs and chefs were at the White House to discuss at May’s roundtable has faced criticism since its inception. In a first round of PPP funding, franchise locations of major restaurant chains like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse received millions of dollars in loans. Only after facing public pressure and scrutiny did many of those major chains return the funds. At that point, the first round of funding had been depleted, shutting out many small restaurants that had applied. The loans often failed to reach and support Black restaurant owners. The forgiveness requirements — a majority of the loan money must be spent on payroll and rehiring staff — left even those restaurateurs who did receive funding unsure whether they could or should use their loans to pay rent, utilities, and jumpstart their reopening plans.
As restaurants continue to close at an alarming rate across the country, federal support and guidance remains extremely limited, and as winter approaches, many restaurants are on the verge of permanent closure. The open letter slams the Trump campaign for “failing to lead our country through this crisis.” In it, the signatories write:
Throughout the crisis, the restaurant industry has begged this administration for support. We have pleaded with officials to fix the PPP program, recognize the oncoming tsunami of restaurant closings that we are now starting to see and respond with a plan. Yet, at every turn, the President has mishandled the response. He has downplayed our struggles, refuted the idea that restaurants will suffer because they rely on social interaction and insisted there were no personal protective equipment shortages that are required to keep restaurant staff safe.
In contrast to the president, who the restaurateurs say has “proven his unfitness to hold the office of the presidency,” they argue that Biden is prepared to solve the current crisis and show restaurants the support they so need. Biden has vowed to raise the minimum wage and end the tipped minimum wage if he is elected, and his campaign website lays out plans to reform how PPP loans are awarded, so that they better serve small businesses, and “allow for small businesses in need to both keep workers on payroll and cover fixed costs for the duration of the crisis. Of Trump, the letter signers write:
He has failed the restaurant industry, our employees, our customers, and the stakes are too high to continue down this path. America needs a new direction and real leadership. We need to elect Joe Biden as the next President of the United States.
As President, Joe Biden would take the immediate steps needed to solve the COVID crisis and support America’s small businesses and restaurants in our recovery. He would establish a true small business fund to ensure resources are set aside for restaurants, main street shops and other entrepreneurs. He would authorize more generous loans that allow for small businesses in need to both keep workers on payroll and cover fixed costs for the duration of the crisis. And he would provide a guarantee that every qualifying small business will get relief, rather than capping funds in a way that forces small firms to compete against one another.
The 150-plus chefs and restaurant owners who signed the letter, which you can read in full here, say that American restaurateurs “believe deeply in the American Dream,” and create economic opportunity through their business ventures. They also point out that beyond their economic impact, small businesses such as neighborhood restaurants “contribute to the unique character of American towns and cities.” The restaurateurs sign off with a warning, and a call to action: “Without a change in leadership, many of our businesses simply will not survive to see the end of this crisis. We must elect Joe Biden on November 3.”
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