Most days, Colorado-based chef Andrea Frizzi checks in with her sister in Milan, Italy. She is very concerned about him in Denver.
Frizzi runs Il Posto on Larimer Street, as well as Vero pizza and pasta and the Tammen Fish Counter at Denver's Central Market. He looked exhausted, almost out of breath during a phone conversation a week after Denver restaurants closed for two months in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"She knows I don't stop, because I can't," Frizzi said of their conversations. "Restaurants are the new American factories," he explained. "We work with our hands, we stand up, we enter. Now the bureaucracy must work at the same rate as the crisis."
As of Wednesday, Frizzi had changed the business models of his restaurants more than once only to survive the first week of closing.
He was selling comfort foods like pizza, pasta, meat, and cheese, and mainly came to keep his remaining staff of around 10 people employed.
Those who still work give up their advice to donate to the more than 20 who could not keep their jobs due to lack of work or health problems. At the Denver Central Market, Frizzi continued to stock staples (eggs, butter, sugar, and toilet paper) to sell along with take-out meals.
"For now, we can pay people," said Frizzi. "We clearly can't pay the rent with this money. Right now we can forget about the income,quot; and the profit and loss. "
Millions more in Frizzi's position across the United States waited during the second week of closing to hear Congress's plan to help small businesses and workers who had been laid off as a result of the coronavirus.
From March 16 to 19 in Colorado, more than 20,000 people filed unemployment insurance claims, or 1,450% more than the week before. Restaurant workers account for about 10% of state employment, or 294,000 employees. At least 174,000 of them have lost their jobs as of Thursday, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association.
"What concerns me most is complete and utter silence about what (the restaurants) are doing," Frizzi said. "The (government) knows we are in trouble, but they don't say anything. Do you know when the silence is really strong? We need someone to tell us, 'We stand behind you' or 'We don't,' because we are alone right now, completely "
On Wednesday night, the Senate approved a $ 2 trillion rescue package, the largest in US history, which among other measures would include four months of full pay for laid off workers, direct checks on homes, and loans. for small businesses or business tax credits. they can retain employees.
This is the plan if every restaurant in the United States is able to feed its community for free. pic.twitter.com/gyvwgEhT2G
– Tom Colicchio (@tomcolicchio) March 23, 2020
Frizzi's desperation in Denver echoed similar requests from the industry across the United States in the past week and a half. Writing for The New York Times on Sunday, José Andrés implored the federal government to mobilize restaurant workers and activate restaurant kitchens to feed a country in crisis.
"Every industry group should present its case in this crisis," Andrés wrote. "But only those of us who work in restaurants can help revive the economy while feeding and building our communities at the same time."
Until help arrives, restaurants are providing what they can.
At Olivia in Denver (which opened in January), chef Ty Leon said he and his business partners sent 160 meals to hospital staff at Denver Health on Wednesday. They have also been feeding their laid-off employees daily, giving up their own earnings while continuing to pay five salaried workers. The small team cooked and delivered food to customers, who helped by ordering family-size lasagna and take-away and baking cookies, and who "just want to keep us alive," Leon said.
"Little things like that give us bursts of energy to make us think we can last all the way," he added. "In a situation like this, you have to be optimistic, otherwise you wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning."
Leon said his restaurant sales were roughly a tenth of what they had previously been, but that also takes into account the temporary closure of his sister restaurant, Bistro Georgette, inside the Avanti dining room.
That small success, being able to keep one of the two family businesses running, belied what many had already begun to face on a larger scale: firing all staff and closing their doors entirely, even if it was in the short term.
The Colorado Restaurant Association estimates that 39% of restaurants in the state have closed for now, while 2% report that they are permanently closed.
Meanwhile, the Institute for Economic Policy estimated Wednesday that more than 250,000 jobs in Colorado could be lost in the summer, primarily in hospitality and retail.
"Last week, we were running as fast as we could to stay open and keep our staff employed, which was really my number one goal from the start," said Ashley Morrison, executive chef at Broken Italian at Jovanina, who stopped serving. food to take away and delivery from Friday.
"As the days passed, it was not as profitable," he said of the owners' decision to temporarily shut down. "The reality was that we had to cut everyone's hours so drastically that we realized that it would be better if all the staff were left unemployed instead of working a few hours."
Morrison and her boyfriend, Herman Robles, were salaried cooks at Jovanina’s. They were finally able to complete unemployment claims just after midnight on Tuesday. Morrison also organized a fundraiser for two of his kitchen employees "who are particularly more financially vulnerable," according to his GoFundMe description.
"I am painfully aware of where I am in my privileged position," he said. "For the first time in my life, I have been able to accumulate savings to draw on, after years of living from one salary to another, because line cooks basically do nothing."
Morrison is concerned about those coworkers who will have to buy groceries and pay the rent and bills next week without receiving any relief yet.
"We were really concerned about everyone's health, ultimately, but (shutting down) it was a really difficult pill to swallow," Morrison said. "I think as chefs, we are constantly trying to push and make things work … It's a good balancing act between taking this break and also continuing to push and fight for our industry."
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