Op-ed by: Michael Buckley, MT's Dining Group
An open letter to Gov. Sununu:
Dear Governor Sununu,
This is an open and honest appeal from me, Michael Buckley (the chef/owner of several independent restaurants in New Hampshire and lifelong resident), but more importantly, from the hospitality industry as a whole. Over the past three months, we have suffered devastating financial losses. Our industry has been fundamentally changed forever. Even as it stands now, we have a monumental fight ahead of us to get back to a place of normalcy and profitability.
This is a fight we are ready to face head-on. We are not asking for you to do it for us, or give us more grants or stimulus, we are just asking for the opportunity to do it ourselves. We are asking for you to allow us to reopen our dining rooms in some capacity.
I can only speak to the financial position of my own company which held a very solid financial footing before this crisis. Programs such as the Paycheck Protection Plan or EIDL loans were an important first step, but unfortunately, if you do not couple these programs with the ever-important ability to operate your business in a manageable capacity, they will run out long before most businesses can make it through.
Most of my company’s funds were spent trying to keep my staff employed and intact as we waited out the shutdown. I and many other business owners have exhausted our 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. I am not trying to overdramatize our position, but these are merely the facts we all face. I am imploring you to make a decision similar to that of the other 33 governors who have started to reopen their restaurants for indoor dining. We must start now with the phase two restrictions so we will still be around for the final phase of reopening.
Per NHPR, which has been tracking daily stats on COVID-19 cases put out by the state, we have seen an average decline in newly identified cases and average total cases over the last 14 days. We believe this should qualify us to have a certain level of comfort moving forward into the next stage of reopening.
This industry is grounded by independent entrepreneurs, most whom have spent their entire lives building a business they can be proud of to support their families. The hospitality industry is a cornerstone of the New Hampshire economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs, bolstering the tourist trade, and enriching the lives of its citizens. The rooms and meals tax generated by the restaurant and lodging industry each year is one of the main sources of revenue that keep our state running. This is especially important as we see a decrease in state income this year due to lighter traffic at tolls and liquor stores. With these losses, we would most likely have to institute a sales tax, income tax, or both. That is something that would change the Live Free or Die state for eternity.
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.
We will continue to work with you at the state level to ensure our reopening is safe and seamless, protecting our guests and our employees from any future spread of COVID-19, but at the end of the day, that must coincide with our dining rooms opening again. These next few weeks are a vital time in the restart of our industry. We are not under the notion that we will be back to profitability any time soon, but it is imperative that we restart the engine while the nucleus of our industry is still intact. We are down but we are not out, we don’t need to be saved but we need to be supported, and we need to be allowed to start our long fight back to a place of financial stability. We are not alone in this struggle. We share the same bleak outlook of many industries across our state and this country.
Ultimately it will be up to leaders such as you, industry leaders, and the business owners to make the tough but necessary choices that will lead us to eventual success.
We have never, and would never, downplay the severity of any preventable loss of life. My heart goes out to all who have lost or suffered. Which is why, when we were asked to shutter our businesses, we did. When we were asked to stay home in an attempt to flatten the curve, we did. And it worked. The time to re-open is now, while we still have businesses to return to, while our employees still have jobs to return to, while we still have a chance. It is unrealistic and counterproductive to expect or believe that the government will be able to continue to take care of everyone financially. The cash needed to fund such ideals comes from one place, the strength of our economy.
We will continue to respect your decisions and look forward to working side by side with you for years to come. This public health crisis has been the most trying time our state has seen in many years, but I am sure the New Hampshire way of rolling up our sleeves and getting back to work will make things right again.
Michael T Buckley
Michael Timothy’s Dining Group
Michael Buckley is the chef-owner of five award-winning restaurants – including Surf in Portsmouth – and a leader in New Hampshire’s hospitality industry. The views expressed are those of the writer.
Click here to read the full article on Seacoastonline.com.