Food world icon David Chang, owner of several restaurants including Manhattan’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, was interviewed in the New York Times Magazine about the threat to the restaurant business from the coronavirus. It’s not a pretty sight:
…I do not want to incite panic and hysteria, but I think for restaurants and the service industry, there is going to be a morbidly high business death rate. My fear is the restaurants that survive are going to be the big chains, and we’re going to eradicate the very eclectic mix that makes America and going out to eat so vibrant and great. And there is a lot of feeling that even in good times, if chefs can’t make their numbers, they’re going to lose everything, so imagine what they must be feeling now. When the economy is booming, it’s hard for restaurants to get loans from the bank because there’s no assets to back them. I don’t know if it’s going to be feasible for the government to give out a stimulus loan to a restaurant or restaurant groups the way they were able to do in 2008 to the auto companies. So I’m trying to figure out what the best way is. The government should give a greater bailout package to real estate owners so that there can be relief for restaurant owners. It has to move up the chain.
To save the restaurant business we would need immediate income support to last for months for ownership, chefs, and top talent extending all the way though the supply chain. I don’t see this happening. As Chang points out “There’s a lot of successful chefs I know who have five to nine days left of money. And then what do you do? I don’t know.” And of course the situation for restaurant staff is even more dire.
I hate to be pessimistic but I think Chang’s worst fears will be realized. For the next couple years, even once we have the virus under control, for most people, going out to eat will mean heading to Olive Garden.
We’re all wondering when life will return to something like normal. For far too many people, even if they survive with their health intact, the world they inhabited a month ago is gone.
Of course, eventually we will rebuild and prosper. It’s important to remember that the modern world with its marvelous technology, copious freedoms, and extraordinary wealth was built from the rubble of two world wars and a great depression.
There is hope but one needs to look to the horizon to find it.