Ohio Restaurant Owner Says Closures Are 'Devastating' For Service Workers

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A table at Salt (Courtesy)
A table at Salt (Courtesy)

Precautions to weaken the spread of COVID-19 are severely impacting service workers in the restaurant industry.

Ohio was one of the first states to order all bars and restaurants close to the public, and offer only take-out or delivery to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The National Restaurant Association estimates the industry could lose $225 billion and lay off 5 million to 7 million employees over the next three months.

Restaurant owner Jessica Parkison says closing her business for the past week has been a “surreal experience.” Parkison co-owns small plates restaurant Salt in Lakewood, Ohio, and says she’s hoping to close for several weeks — but nothing is certain.

Salt isn’t offering takeout or delivery, she says. For now, a few staff members have been helping her close up the restaurant.

“Our menu does not carry out. We would have to completely rebrand what we have built over the last four years” she says. “And there was a little bit of concern safety-wise for our staff.”

If she and her co-owner decide to do takeout or delivery, Parkison says the owners would do it themselves and donate the money to their service staff.

Last Monday, after the state closed restaurants to the public last week, Parkison invited her staff to come in. The owners gave the staff food and some cash to help them through the “nightmare” unemployment situation, she says.

One of her servers still hasn’t filed for unemployment due to complications caused by an open claim from 15 years ago, she says. Staff are only receiving only one-third of their regular pay because unemployment covers their hourly wage but does not include tips, she says.

“I have servers that were making quite good money now making $90 a week through unemployment,” she says.

Parkison says she’s still figuring out what her business needs, but money from the state and federal government could help her pay staff. She’s more concerned about sustaining the business over the next year than reopening in three to four months.

It’s not a question of when Salt will reopen, she says, but rather if.

Many restaurants are selling gift cards to give customers a chance to support the business during this tough time. But Parkison says upon reopening, she will need people spending money, not paying in gift cards.

“People that come into our restaurant are spending money and there isn't going to be any money from anyone to be able to spend,” she says. “We are not selling gift cards even right now because we can't guarantee that we will reopen and we can't have thousands of dollars on our conscience at night.”

Restaurants in Lakewood and nearby Cleveland are working together to find solutions, she says. Local chef Eric Williams came in to bounce off ideas last Monday, she says, and she’s been working with chef Mat Spinner to help service workers by providing food or donations.

A lot of the city’s servers and bartenders are single mothers or fathers who need to feed their families, she says.

Parkison says she’s trying to work with the community and other local chefs to provide food and other immediate staples for service workers — but as restaurant doors remain closed, the need will grow.

“Soon it's gonna be cash to help pay for rent or bills or gas for their car,” she says. “It's sad. It's devastating.”

Though she agrees restaurants needed to close to the public to prevent spreading the virus, she wishes the disaster relief loans were submitted prior to the governor’s order. She also wishes Lakewood would do more to help restaurants that aren’t doing takeout or delivery, she says.

“I wish that there were quicker funding for our service industry people that really, really need it,” she says. “But I do agree, I think that it needed to happen.”

Julia Corcoran produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’DowdAllison Hagan adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on March 23, 2020.

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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.


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Allison Hagan Digital Producer, Here & Now
Allison Hagan is a digital producer for Here & Now.



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