Houston restaurant owners face summer of uncertainty after COVID-19 pandemic

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HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – For Chris Shepherd, most days since Texas reopened has felt like country dancing: one step forward, two steps back.

Award-winning chef James Beard and Houston restaurateur said that after waging the war against the effects of COVID-19 on his concepts for more than a year, signs of life are blooming at Georgia James, Hay Merchant, UB Preserv and One Fifth Mediterranean.

But as more customers get their coronavirus shots and step out into the open, time has suddenly become the latest threat to her business.

“We don’t know what this summer looks like, and it’s terrifying,” Shepherd told ABC13 during Thursday night’s town hall, which focused on the challenges of the restaurant industry during the pandemic. “People can now travel and go, and we all know Houstonians want to go.”

Three Brothers Bakery owner Janice Jucker considers herself blessed. The grocery-like model in her boutique meant continued operations throughout the pandemic, but she said she felt the change was coming.

“Frankly, I think this summer we’re probably going to be down because people are going on vacation, and last year they didn’t,” Jucker said.

More than 10,000 Texas restaurants have been forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 85% of Texas operators say their restaurant’s profit margin is lower than it was before the COVID-outbreak. 19, according to Texas Restaurant Association.

Six years of restaurant growth have been wiped out by the pandemic. Nationally, restaurants lost $ 240 billion in sales in 2020, and 2.5 million jobs were lost as the United States continues to fight the pandemic.

Restaurant owners we spoke with said an injection of funds from Congress could help matters, but the demand for help has been overwhelming.

In March, Congress passed the US bailout, which included the $ 28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, designed to cover the revenue losses linked to the pandemic for restaurants, food trucks, bars, taprooms and breweries.

US Representative Lizzie Fletcher said the fund faced a serious shortfall in May, after more than 372,000 applicants responded with a total need of $ 76 billion. She said she is now fighting to get more money into the hands of restaurateurs.

“Houston is a city of food. We’re so proud of the diversity, the different types of places to go and the delicious food, and that’s important,” said Fletcher. “There is no better example of a community where restaurants are truly the heart of the community than here in Houston.”

The shortage of hospitality workers and the demand for higher wages compound the concerns of restaurant owners and customers.

Shepherd said his team had looked at the two issues from all angles, but the salary increases would require passing the cost on to diners at a time when everything is more expensive.

“What happened in the last year, a lot of things got broken,” Shepherd said. “The food chain broke. Frying oil went from $ 19 per container to $ 39 per container overnight. Beef prices skyrocketed.”

Jucker says solving systemic issues affecting many workers in Houston, such as accessing health care and figuring out who will look after children, could go a long way in attracting new employees.

“The issue of affordable child care is a huge issue, especially in this industry where we employ a lot of young people,” Jucker said. “They are essential for America’s economic recovery.”

Restaurant owners we spoke with also said that whether they will have to repay their remaining Paycheck Protection Program loans is a big factor in their recovery from the pandemic.

Want to help restaurant and hotel workers recover from the pandemic? Visit the Southern Smoke website to learn more.

Watch an event recap, live TV news, and in-depth reporting from ABC13 on your favorite streaming devices, like Roku, FireTV, AppleTV, and Google TV. Just search for “ABC13 Houston”.

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