Restaurant industry pleads for comprehensive help plan amid new shutdowns

SPOKANE, Wash.– The latest round of restrictions announced by Governor Jay Inslee put a major roadblock in the path forward for Washington businesses.

The life of Jed Conklin’s restaurant and event space has been a tough one. He opened Hunt and Redband just as the pandemic began to intensify in the community. He recently reopened in-person dining at Hunt and reservations were booking up for holiday parties at Redband. Then, the state was put on another pause.

“It didn’t come as a huge surprise,” Conklin said.

On Sunday, Governor Inslee announced that rising COVID-19 cases were prompting more restrictions on gyms, restaurants, bars, and gatherings. Starting Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. all Washington restaurants and bars will only be allowed to serve takeout and offer limited outdoor seating.

During the initial shutdown, Conklin was quick to adjust. He and his business partner, chef Tony Brown, started offering family-style meals to go. They’ll likely return to that model again in this latest shutdown, but Conklin said they’re still flushing out plans.

But even with a robust takeout menu, Conklin knows there will be layoffs and staff who are still working won’t be making what they’re used to with tips.

“Even if they’re employed for takeout, they just don’t receive the same compensation as they do when they’re working in-person dining. So, they’re going to be impacted and they’re going to be impacted at a really rough time,” Conklin said. Reserve Sign For Redband Room

Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) CEO Alisha Benson said it’s too soon to quantify the economic loss, but it’s clear it will be widespread.

“These businesses are real people and they employ real people. They employ our neighbors and our friends and folks down the street,” Benson said.

While Conklin is confident his business will be alright in the end, he knows that’s not the story for everyone. Restaurants have already shuttered, including neighboring Garageland, and Conklin knows more will follow.

“This is going to be the death blow for several restaurants that are barely hanging on,” Conklin said.

Conklin believes the 50 million dollars in assistance announced by Gov. Inslee Sunday won’t stretch far.

“Although any little bit helps, don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a more comprehensive plan on the state level to help offset the losses our employees are feeling,” Conklin said.

With federal help stuck in a stalemate and no comprehensive state plan, short term survival could depend on the community.

“Each of us has to do our part and our businesses and our community need us now, more than ever, to follow the guidance,” Benson said. “Mask up, stay six feet apart and really try not to gather this holiday season.”

Staying apart is the best way to keep our community together in the future.

“I can see the pinpoint of a light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel,” Conklin said.

RELATED: Spokane Co. sees highest-ever COVID spike over the weekend; nearly 1,000 people test positive

RELATED: Spokane chef, developer draw on the past to shape the future of new restaurants