Governor Jay Inslee’s new guidelines for bars and restaurants, released Tuesday as part of updated Safe Start Plan, will likely have very little positive impact on the businesses they intend to help, according to several owners of some well-known local establishments.
The governor’s office announced the “Phase 2 and Phase 3 Restaurant, Tavern, Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries COVID-19 Requirements” as part of the broad restart plan that also covers libraries and movie theaters. The most notable changes for local eateries and watering holes include a later cut-off time for alcohol consumption, an increase to the maximum number of occupants at a single table and removal of a requirement that diners at a table be from the same household.
But all the local bar and restaurant owners The Daily World spoke with were in agreement that the looser guidelines fall short of the what they need in an industry known to have thin margins.
“There’s nothing in this that is major for our business,” said Todd Hoiness, co-owner of Pub Monte as he rifled through the list of changes before concluding it didn’t have any teeth to it. “This sounds like the governor trying to get re-elected to me. It sounds like he’s doing something, but this isn’t really doing anything.”
Hoiness, who co-owns the popular establishment with his wife, Brooke, said the 50% capacity limit and prohibition of extracurricular revenue streams, such as live entertainment and table games make profitability very tough.
“All live entertainment is still prohibited and that brings people in,” Hoiness said, adding live music brought in customers for his young business, which is approximately one year old. “That other 50% of tables is what we live off of. The first 50% of tables, hopefully, pays the bills. That’s the difference between if we get to put food on our table and if we get to hire another person.”
Longtime owner of the Ace of Clubs Tavern in Hoquiam, Joe Veloni, said his overall revenue is down about a third since the shutdowns and the loss of revenue from pool tables and other bar games, all of which are prohibited, has contributed to that loss.
“That’s extra money just sitting there,” he said. “And that all helps.”
Veloni, who has been in the bar business since 1977 and has owned Ace of Clubs since 1986 thinks the governor’s measure to extend alcohol service by one hour “will help a little bit” but still falls short, adding bars need to be allowed to open full time to stay afloat.
“That extra hour will be a little difference and help out, but sometimes it’s the later crowds are the ones that bring in more money,” he said. “They want to play pool and not just come and sit and drink. The more you have for people to do, the better it is. And you can’t play pool so you can’t make money there. … We’re doing what they can and what they tell us to do, but some of the things that our governor is saying doesn’t make sense.”
Capacity has also been an issue for Veloni’s establishment.
“I can have 90 people I believe it is. If I could have that many people all the time, that would be great, but I don’t have that many people all the time,” he said. “They go by square footage and that’s how you figure out capacity, which is haywire. I’ve only got so many bar-stools in here, but the square footage is what they go on.”
Gepetto’s Italian Restaurant and Sports Bar in Montesano, which has been owned and operated by Bob and Sue McEndoo for the past 28 years, is also just trying to keep its doors open as shutdowns and restrictions have hampered its business.
“My arms are getting tired from treading water,” said Bob McEndoo. “On a good day, the restaurant business is tough, the margins are so skinny.”
According to McEndoo, Gepetto’s has suffered due to the inability to offer live music or hold private parties in its banquet room and it’s been a struggle to retain its regular customer base.
“We’re actually pretty fortunate,” he said, offering that they are starting to see business pick up again now that more is known about the coronavirus, but the loss of revenue from its banquet area has hurt the bottom line. “That was the gravy.”
Sue McEndoo noted that just because business and their ability to make money has been restricted doesn’t mean their costs have paralleled. In fact, the manufactured demand created by coronavirus has seen prices of goods skyrocket.
“Today, a case of blue (cleaning) gloves costs $170 per case,” she said. “It was $50 a case before COVID. … Cheese, which is our main product, is normally $45 per case. At one time (during the lock-down) it was $70 (per case). And I’ve heard ‘to-go’ containers are going to go up in price soon as well.”
Costs have also hindered Pub Monte, which had begun a large expansion into a 1,600 square foot room adjacent to their main dining area just before the shutdowns were put in place. The expansion has been in limbo ever since.
“We have a lot of money sunk into this and we’re not getting a return on it now,” Hoiness said of the expansion. “If this was done and we were at 50% (capacity limit), we’d be fine because 50% in here is another 50 people.”
Veloni was frustrated that, in his view, bigger retail outlets and nationally-known stores don’t have to adhere to similar stringent mandates.
“Walmart, Safeway, Home Depot, people by the hundreds can go in there. … They don’t do much about that,” he said. “They let them in a little at a time and they had to wear masks, but you get hundreds of people in those places. Why can they go in there and they can’t come in here? That’s what I don’t get.”
“This is re-election material,” Hoiness reiterated regarding the governor’s Safe Start Plan updates before offering what he thinks may be the only way local businesses will survive. “The only way (the small businesses) will make it through in our little area of the world is if everybody tries to stay local and spend money in their own town.”