Washington restaurant owners ask for more pandemic relief funding

WASHINGTON D.C. — Restaurant owners from across Washington met with Senator Maria Cantwell on Tuesday to make the case for another round of emergency funding for the hospitality industry. 

Restaurants have been hit hard during the pandemic and some of the biggest strain is happening right now. 

Cantwell said conditions are worse today than they were three months ago. 

Anthony Anton, CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, said there are a few things to blame: the recent omicron surge, supplier shortages and inflation. 

Anton stressed that restaurants have built up a lot of debt over the past few years and another round of funding is needed to help soften the burden. 

He mentioned that Paycheck Protection Program loans were helpful, as was the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, but with the latter, not every restaurant was eligible for help. He fears that costs to get back to “normal times” will be huge. 

Lisa Emery, owner of Swinging Doors in Spokane, spoke about her experience over the past few years. She said she was able to use PPP money to pay employees and even put those funds toward new equipment. 

“It’s really hard to be open-air dining in Spokane in December, but we did it and we spent more money on tents and heaters and a capacity of 19 people and still kept people working,” Emery said. 

However, she said her restaurant wasn’t eligible for money through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund when they could have greatly used that help. 

Emery said Swinging Doors has also been dealing with the “Great Resignation” and has lost employees to other fields. 

Those who have stuck around are dealing with sickness and she said customers are staying home because they are scared of getting sick. 

Cantwell said there is a bipartisan effort to help secure more funds for the hospitality industry. She said she is a member of the Small Business Committee and a number of senators are working on a bill to help small businesses. 

“It’s imperative that we take care of our economy and the mainstay of small businesses in many communities are these restaurants,” Cantwell said. 

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