Best thing was to lay off workers, says restaurant owner on coronavirus impact

Many American workers suffering from record breaking job losses because of the coronavirus pandemic are hoping that a nearly $2 trillion fiscal stimulus deal between Senate Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will help them keep the lights on and pay their rent.

Sal Scognamillo, the owner of Patsy’s, an Italian restaurant in New York City, says he let his employees go amid the forced restaurant shutdown because it was in their own best interest. New York State is the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

“The best thing by the advice of everyone was to let them go so they could collect unemployment now, because there really is no work for us,” he told Yahoo Finance. “We consider our employees part of our family. Some of them have been with us for 40 years.”

Patsy’s, in midtown Manhattan, has been around since 1944. Scognamillo’s grandfather opened the restaurant at the tail end of WWII. The restaurant has survived 9/11, the 2003 blackout, and Hurricane Sandy. The coronavirus outbreak is the event that forced the restaurant to shut its doors for now.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended restaurants a lifeline by allowing them to stay open for delivery and takeout, but that’s not a viable option for Patsy’s. Scognamillo said he tried delivery for a few days, but didn’t get much traction because of a lack of name recognition as a takeout provider. 

Scognamillo said demand for delivery services overall has taken a hit. “Many people are not going out of their homes now. If it’s a delivery service, even if they’re not touching anything and the delivery service is leaving it at their doorstep, they feel like someone else handled their food so that’s another fear people have,” he said. (Instacart, Postmates, Doordash, and Seamless are among delivery companies offering contactless deliveries.)

restaurant traffic plummets

Even restaurants with takeout models are struggling to keep their doors open. “There is an Indian restaurant around the corner from us on 8th Avenue and then there’s a Thai place that [my son] goes to on the east side when he’s not eating the Italian food that we serve,” Scognamillo said. “Those two models are basically take-out models, in the way they are now and they told my son they’re not doing much business anyway.”

Scognamillo said he’s been moved to tears by the kind outreach of friends and customers as his business faces this tough challenge. But social distancing has made it tougher. “The big difference between 9/11, which is sad, is that we can’t hug each other anymore,” he said. 

More than 20 of New York City’s top restaurants formed the Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants hospitality organization. The group is asking Cuomo for relief in the form of rent abatement, sales and payroll tax breaks, and a full shutdown of restaurant services including delivery services, in order to allow restaurants to receive insurance payments.

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