By: Kimberly Houghton, Union Leader Correspondent
Fearful that decades of work will be destroyed, New Hampshire restaurant owners are publicly beseeching the governor to allow indoor dining to resume.
“This is almost an insurmountable devastation financially,” Amy LaBelle of LaBelle Winery in Amherst said on Friday.
Indoor dining came to a halt about 10 weeks ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although takeout, curbside pickup and outdoor dining are still permitted, restaurant owners maintain that patchwork is not a sustainable business model.
“This is dire. We need to open. I don’t want government help, I just want to open,” LaBelle said.
Although LaBelle supported Gov. Chris Sununu in the last election, she questions his leadership now. She said he should be letting businesses know what the next steps and ultimate goal are so that they can plan and prepare.
LaBelle said she doesn’t understand whether the current objective is eradicate the disease, find a vaccine or flatten the curve.
“Why on earth are we not open … he is messing with my livelihood,” she said, expressing fears that if the winery does not reopen, she could lose her business and in a worst-case scenario, possibly lose her home.
LaBelle, who said she has given refunds to couples who booked weddings at their event center, has no idea when weddings will be able to resume.
She said restaurants can — and should — reopen with safeguards in place.
“We are fighting for our lives,” she said.
Not breaking even
Michael Buckley, of Michael Buckley’s Dining Group, said Friday that under the current restrictions, restaurants are not breaking even.
Bills are not going away, vendors must still be paid, and weather can prohibit the already limited services of outdoor dining, according to Buckley, whose operations include Surf Restaurant, Buckley’s Great Steaks and MT’s Local Kitchen and Wine Bar.
“Many businesses have exhausted their resources. Having the ability to open our patios was a good first step and is appreciated, but unfortunately, with only patio tables and curbside, we continue to lose money,” Buckley wrote in an open letter to Sununu.
With 33 other governors starting to reopen restaurants to indoor dining, Buckley said now is the time for New Hampshire to start to ease restrictions so that restaurants will be around for the final phase.
“Not every business will make it out of this difficult time. I am aware of at least six of my fellow restaurateurs that have already decided to close. I believe that to be just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Noting the permanent closures of Triolos Bakery in Bedford and Canoe restaurant in Bedford, LaBelle said the current situation’s impact on cash flow is indescribable.
‘Starving’ for normal
Andrea and Jack Carnevale, owners of the Bedford Village Inn and Restaurant, wrote in a letter to the editor that if indoor dining is not permitted soon, the establishment will be forced to scale back its restaurant staff, or worse.
“It has taken us 30 years to build the Bedford Village Inn and Restaurant and the governor’s policy of keeping us closed is destroying it. We cannot go on much longer being closed or we may have to shut our doors forever,” the Carnevales wrote. “We implore the governor to change his restrictive policies and help our industry and our people by opening hotels and allowing indoor dining and functions.”
They said hotels and restaurants are well-equipped to control customer behavior and ensure all safety guidelines are met. People are “starving to get back to normal” and have shown that they can do it safely, they said.
Sununu said he hopes to have an announcement in the next few weeks about some form of indoor dining, but it’s too early to know what that will look like.
By late June most restaurant owners will have exhausted the federal Payroll Protection Program money that helped them keep staff on the payroll even when their eateries weren’t open, the governor said.
“My hope is even if we are not making that move for 50% (capacity indoors), we could at least give them a timeline so those owners have some certainty,” Sununu said.
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