Richmond restaurant owners need help: 'Something needs to change'

Posted at 11:57 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 07:52:01-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond City Council member Stephanie Lynch hosted a restaurant industry virtual town hall Wednesday afternoon, as she and other city leaders listened to concerns from restaurant owners.

"You are absolutely critical partners with and for us and you help make Richmond what it is," Lynch said.

"We're struggling just as hard as everyone else," Jackie Bishop, owner of Fallout, said.

One of the topics covered during the meeting was the changes to ABC laws and the rising trend of selling to-go alcohol.

"Restaurants definitely feel like we are at the bottom of the totem pole as far as the customer to the ABC," Kevin Liu, owner of Jasper and Carytown Cupcakes, added.

Anthony Jimenez, with the ABC Richmond Enforcement, said one of the big changes was allowing delivery permits across the board for restaurants.

"You no longer need to get a permit from us, you can automatically deliver to your customers without going through the steps of getting an on-premise license or going through the process of getting a delivery permit," Jimenez said.

Meanwhile, some restaurant owners said a bigger concern lied within declining customers due to COVID restrictions and the meal tax within the city.

"The rate is so high, if they lowered it for just a little bit longer, while we're getting through this," Gerald Abernethy, co-owner of Hot for Pizza, said.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 10,000 restaurants nationwide closed within the last three months.

In a letter sent Dec. 7 to Congress, the association told lawmakers that restaurants “are under siege and in desperate need of financial assistance as tens of thousands of businesses are shuttering permanently or closing for the long term.”

In a survey, the association found 87% of full-service restaurants reported an average of 36% drop in sales revenue.

Trey Owens, an owner of Soul Taco, sat in on the town hall and said he believed these are all concerns city and state leaders should have already been aware of since the pandemic began.

"It's fruitless to us to keep referring back to the code of Virginia. When it doesn't give us any marching orders as far as what we're faced with. I think we definitely need to think outside the box or rather in this case think outside the code and figure out what we can actually do to help people," Owens said.

The city said it recently started a $2 million Richmond Recover grant program to help support businesses.

"Where we have set aside $1.25 million for restaurants where we're going through the process now of making grant awards where we're prioritizing businesses who did not receive any grants through our cares act allocation, or the EID or PPE," Director of Economic Development, Leonard Sledge said.

Owens just hopes the conversation can continue.

"Something needs to change; we need to actually sit down and think about this thing and not just keep trying to fit a square peg in a round hole," Owens said.