Coronavirus

Philly’s Biggest Chefs and Restaurateurs Demand Immediate Relief From Government

In an effort spearheaded by HipCityVeg's Nicole Marquis, Philly's most prominent restaurateurs — including Stephen Starr, Marc Vetri and Ellen Yin — are petitioning state officials to save the industry and its employees.

coronavirus relief

COVID-19 is decimating the Philly restaurant scene. Our biggest-named restaurateurs are demanding immediate coronavirus relief | Photo of HipCityVeg provided

We’re, right now, in Week 2 of the coronavirus quarantine. Many Philly restaurants have closed, some temporarily, some for good, but it’s too soon to tell. Some have pivoted to delivery and takeout only since restaurants were officially deemed “life-sustaining” businesses by our state governor, but full staffs have been razed to skeleton crews. Thousands of workers have already been laid off, left to fend for themselves and their families — multiple fundraising efforts have been launched in their honor. Monthly rent payments are due imminently, and restaurant insurance companies are refusing to help.

Many American industries will be decimated by the coronavirus, but the restaurant industry is particularly vulnerable to its virulence. A week ago, Eater wrote that the restaurant industry as we know it is “fucked” without a bailout: “Independent operators need a major infusion of cash — cash that’s more readily available from the government than from their stressed-out customers — to make it. They need rent alleviation, eviction protection, and tax deferrals, at a minimum, to live through this body blow. Who knows what they’ll end up getting.”

Philly’s restaurant industry, like those across the country, is flailing helplessly, and we’ve yet to hear any sort of guidance from elected officials. So in an effort to gain some control over the situation, a group of Philly’s most influential restaurateurs have banded together to demand a plan.

In an effort spearheaded by HipCityVeg’s Nicole Marquis, leading restaurateurs in Philadelphia representing over 150 restaurants have signed a petition that they will simultaneously send to legislators Monday morning requesting a virtual meeting. Among the signers are Stephen Starr, Marc Vetri, Ellen Yin, Greg Vernick, Fergie Carey, Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney.

By surveying many of the top restaurateurs in the city (“The ones who employ the most people, with the biggest reputations, with the biggest names,” says Marquis), Marquis and her director of marketing, Aviva Goldfarb, came up with a list of five top priorities:

  1. Emergency unemployment benefits for our laid off employees (eliminating the 4-week delay to receive checks);
  2. Rent abatement and a moratorium on commercial and residential evictions and collection actions for at least 60 days (mandated 60 day grace period to avoid defaults);
  3. Government intervention to require insurers to provide business interruption coverage related to closures that are mandated by the government related to the current health crisis;
  4. Emergency loans with no or low interest to businesses that are impacted by the government mandated closures;
  5. Declare a state sales tax “holiday” for restaurant pick-up and delivery orders, so that restaurants who stay open can compete on an even playing field with grocery delivery services (which are not generally subject to sales tax).

“This goes far beyond the quarantine,” says Marquis. “It’s going to have a ripple effect in the restaurant industry that we’ve never seen before.

“People say that they can’t wait for the quarantine to be over, but I’m telling them that they have to brace themselves. When the Treasury Secretary tells us that we’re going to see 20 percent unemployment rate, I quickly Googled what the unemployment rate was during the Great Depression. It was 25 percent.

The letter in full:

To our elected officials:

We are the leading independent restaurateurs in Philadelphia, and we are writing to you for your immediate action, as we fight for the livelihood of thousands of our employees and indeed our very existence, during this unprecedented health and economic crisis.

We, like you, all share a top priority: the health and safety of our employees and customers. I can assure you that we are doing everything we can to protect them, including following all government mandates aimed at stemming the spread of the Coronavirus. Governor Wolf has mandated that even now, restaurants that provide take-out and delivery services are deemed “Life-Sustaining” business and should remain open during this crisis.

At the same time, we are battling to ensure that our restaurants, which play such an important part in our communities and economies, will still exist for our patrons and all of our employees, as soon as our beloved city can get back to business.

These are very dark days for us. Right now, our future, with just a trickle of our former income, looks very bleak. We have had to close many of our restaurants entirely and lay off all or nearly all of our beloved teams. None of us has a clear path to survival beyond a couple of weeks from now. As you know, restaurants run on very tight margins, and without daily revenue, we cannot pay our rent, our employees, our vendors, or ourselves. Unlike other industries, restaurants do not have deep reserves for slower days, let alone months.

We have joined together as a vital part of the economic engine and the heart of our city to plea for help from our government.

We have established our top 5 priorities, which we believe would help us get through this together:

1.   Emergency unemployment benefits for our laid off employees (eliminating the 4-week delay to receive checks);

2.   Rent abatement and a moratorium on commercial and residential evictions and collection actions for at least 60 days (mandated 60 day grace period to avoid defaults);

3.   Government intervention to require insurers to provide business interruption coverage related to closures that are mandated by the government related to the current health crisis;

4.   Emergency loans with no or low interest to businesses that are impacted by the government mandated closures.

5.   Declare a state sales tax “holiday” for restaurant pick-up and delivery orders, so that restaurants who stay open can compete on an even paying field with grocery delivery services (which are not generally subject to sales tax).

We realize that some of these issues are best addressed at different levels of government (local, state and national). We include them together, so that you, our elected officials, can coordinate a response to this industry crisis.

We know all industries are hurting. However, few have been hit as hard as the hospitality industry. Our employees are often the most economically vulnerable as well – which is why securing immediate unemployment benefits for our employees is our first priority.

We look forward to working with you immediately to achieve the above priorities. Please let us know when you can meet with us via phone or video next week to discuss how we can work together to achieve the above goals.

Yours, in preserving the future of our fine city,

  • Jonathan Adams, Co-Founder, Rival Bros Coffee
  • Tyler Akin, Owner, Stock Restaurants, Res Ipsa Cafe
  • George Anni, Owner, Butcher Bar, Valanni, Mercato,Varga bar
  • Joseph Baldino, Owner, Palizzi Social
  • Scott Ballard, Member/Owner, idEATion Hospitality/Garces
  • Christopher Barnes, Managing Partner, Lucky’s Last Chance
  • Jeff Benjamin, Co-Owner, Vetri Cucina/Fiorella
  • Matt Bucher, Director of Talent Acquisition, STARR Restaurants
  • Fergus Carey, Owner, Fergie’s Pub Grace Tavern The Fairview and The Goat
  • Randall Cook, Co-Owner, Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, Hiroki
  • Steven Cook, Co-Owner, CookNSolo Restaurants, Zahav, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, Abe Fisher, Goldie, K’Far, Merkaz, Laser Wolf
  • Shawn Darragh, Co-Owner, Cheu Noodle bar, Bing Bing Dim Sum, Cheu Fishtown & nunu
  • Greg Dodge, Owner, Zavino Hospitality Group, Zavino & Tredici Enoteca
  • Nicholas Elmi, Owner/Chef, Laurel/ITV/Royal Boucherie
  • Ben Fileccia, Director of Operations and Strategy, Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association
  • Dave Goldman, Co-Owner, Landmark Americana (2 locations) and Urban Village Brewing Company
  • Tom Henneman, CEO and Co-Founder, Federal Donuts
  • Avram Hornik, Owner, FCM Hospitality: Morgan’s Pier, dolphin tavern, Harper’s garden, Rosys taco bar, Crafthall, Concourse dance bar, Parks on Tap, Mainstay brewery, Lost bread co.
  • Dean Leevongcharoen, Owner, Ramen Bar
  • Peter Leontaras, Owner, Xochitl
  • Tim Lu, Owner, GLU Hospitaly: Leda & the Swan, Vesper Sports Club, Vesper Dayclub, Germantown Garden, Anejo, Set PHL
  • Nicole Marquis, Founder and CEO, HipCityVeg, Charlie was a sinner., and Bar Bombón
  • Daniel McLaughlin, Owner, Mission Taqueria
  • Bill & Emilio Mignucci, Owners, Di Bruno Bros (Alimentari restaurant)
  • Sam Mink, Owner, Oyster House/Mission Taqueria
  • Jon Myerow, Founder and CEO, Tria Rittenhouse, Tria Wash West, Tria Taproom
  • Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello, owners of 13th street kitchens, KQ burger, Kensington Quarters, Café Lift, Prohibition Taproom
  • Tony Rim, Owner, Zushi LLC. Foodery @ Rittenhouse, 1225 Raw Sushi and Sake Lounge
  • Justin Rosenberg, Honeygrow
  • Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, Co-Owners, Safran Turney Hospitality (Barbuzzo, Little Nonna’s, Bud & Marilyn’s, Jamonera, Lolita)
  • Michael Schulson, Owner, Schulson Collective: Via Locusta, Alpen Rose, Giuseppe and Sons, Harp & Crown, Double Knot, Independence Beer Garden, Sampan, Graffiti Bar, Osteria, DK Sushi, Schulson Catering
  • Teddy Sourias, Owner, Bru craft and wurst, Finn McCools, Ubahn, Uptown Beer Garden, Midtown, Blume, Tradesmans, Tinsel pop up
  • Stephen Starr, STARR Restaurants
  • George Tsiouris, Owner, Opa
  • Stavros Vailiadis, Owner, Bodega Taco Bar
  • Marc Vetri, Co-Founder, Amis Trattoria, Pizzeria Vetri, Bar Amis
  • Rob Wasserman, Owner, Rouge,Twenty Manning, Audrey Claire
  • Townsend Wentz, Owner, Townsend, A Mano, Oloroso, Townsend Wine Bar
  • Jill Weber, Founder and CEO, Jet Wine Bar, Rex 1516, Cafe Ynez
  • Chad Williams, Owner, FriSatSun
  • Peter Woolsey, Founder and CEO, Bistrot La Minette, La Peg, Gabi
  • Greg and Julie Vernick, Owner, Vernick Food & Drink; Vernick Fish; Vernick Coffee Bar; Vernick Wine
  • Ellen Yin, owner, Fork, High Street on Market, High Street Provisions, High Street Hospitality Group (a.kitchen + bar)