Challenges remain for restaurants despite relaxed restrictions



Revised state guidelines on virus restrictions that went into effect on April 30 mean restaurants in Bernalillo County can now have meals indoors at 50% capacity. These restrictions have fluctuated over the past year and it has been a challenge for restaurants as they have laid off staff, reduced hours, and accommodated more take-out services.

Last year, KUNM spoke with Myra Ghattas, owner of Slate Street Café in Albuquerque, Slate at the Museum and Sixty-Six Acres. During a recent recording, Ghattas said there was more demand for in-person meals, but it was difficult to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels.

MYRA GHATTAS: I think it’s a combination of things. I think some people chose to find other industries and other career paths during the pandemic. And I think some people are reaping the benefits of unemployment that could bring in more than their old job. And I think some people are still very aware of the pandemic and don’t want to expose themselves. And all of these things combined create a very difficult environment for companies to hire.

KUNM: In terms of the restrictions that are still there, how they have fluctuated. What does this mean in terms of ordering supplies, food menus and planning,

GHATTAS: Everything is difficult, everything is more difficult. Everything costs more. I think it’s linked to a pandemic. And I think the supply chains have gotten a bit wobbly. All the restaurants closed quite abruptly, all the food warehouses and distributors had warehouses full of food that was no longer sold. Supply and demand have therefore changed very quickly. And they adjusted. So now that we are reopening, the offer is not what it was a year ago, just over a year ago. We’re struggling with staffing, we’re struggling with all the new things that we have to do like all the mask-wearing and sanitation and making sure we’re on top of all that stuff and training, and it all just seems right. A bit stronger. So currently my two full service restaurants are closed on Mondays. It is precisely because of the staff shortage. Slate Street Cafe has yet to open overnight. So all of these things are kind of a balancing act.

KUNM: Are you doing this job financially? Let me be frank.

GHATTAS: It’s a challenge. I will say that the federal programs that have been launched so far, the P3 loan program, as well as the county, city and state grants, I was able to apply and received a lot of these . And it helped us. I can pretty much tell you that if I hadn’t got the first PPP loan, I don’t think I would be open, I don’t think I would have survived.

KUNM: It’s interesting, because when we talked about it last year, you got a PPP loan, but you said it didn’t really work for restaurants. You were planning to return it. So what’s the update?

GHATTAS: I was considering returning it and it didn’t work for the restaurants. Congress went to work on it. And they made some significant changes to it. And these changes made it work for me.

KUNM: The legislature has passed and the governor signed a deduction for gross receipts for restaurants. Is it useful?

GHATTAS: Everything helps. It is a small. But we’ll take a small, big, medium, we’ll take anything. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is part of the latest stimulus plan. It’s enormous. It’s $ 28 billion in there and it’s specifically for restaurants. And that will help our industry. Once they deploy that, they haven’t quite deployed it yet, but it will be a big deal. Where the previous programs, the PPP programs, which everyone is familiar with, are loans, and there is a process of forgiving those loans, but that process takes a long time and you don’t necessarily get forgiveness for that money. As long as you use that money for the right things, and there is a broad definition of what you can use it for, it counts as a grant, which means we don’t have to pay it back. And I think it will be the most important thing to help restaurants in my area survive and restart as the pandemic subsides. I would add, I always want to add this, I really encourage people to support local independent restaurants and other businesses and also support them with a grain of salt which means it’s really tough right now . So some people come back to the restaurant and expect everything to be the same. It’s not the same thing. It’s hard. We really try to provide the same level of service, but we do it under different circumstances. So keep supporting us but be patient with us too. Thanks, Megan.

New Mexico has removed job search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits. But Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said this week the state would soon adopt new policies encouraging people on unemployment benefits to return to work.



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