Even With PPP, Restaurants Warily Eye Next Few Months

When Sevy’s Grill – like all other restaurants–had to close in March, it also had to face trying to retain longtime employees (and often favorites of regular diners) and remain afloat.

To say the situation was precarious would be an egregious understatement. To say the situation isn’t still precarious would be even more so.

At the time, Jim “Sevy” Severson announced the restaurant’s temporary closure on Facebook, and also shared something else–they were going to try to help their now furloughed employees while they waited to return.

“While our staff ‘stays at home,’ we will continue to pay them $100 weekly for basic needs and  (provide a) food bag of essentials,” he said.

The concern over being able to manage finances and keep employees led many local favorites to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which is administered by the Small Business Administration. The SBA will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met and the funds are used for eligible expenses.

Severson’s wife, Amy, who co-owns the restaurant, said that she is certain almost every restaurant in town is worried about the next few months as restaurants operate at 50% capacity.

“I think you’re gonna find when this all washes out, like most things, there’s gonna be a few people who abuse it, but the rest of us just were trying to legitimately stay viable, and our whole mantra in our industry all over this United States right now is, ‘Can I make it through the next payroll cycle?’” she said. “Believe me, the day we got funded, boom, our guys were back in the kitchen prepping food to reopen.”

The restaurant began offering curbside to-go options soon after.

Franchesca Nor owns DIVE Coastal Cuisine.

DIVE Coastal Cuisine owner Franchesca Nor said that protecting and supporting her staff is among the hardest parts of running a restaurant during a pandemic.

“Making sure your staff is healthy to work, making sure we are following all procedures all of the time to stop the spread. Supporting your staff when and if they do test positive, preventing other staff to test positive, continuing to have strict standards in your policy with your staff. In our case, giving them job security no matter what,” she listed as she talked about the hard parts, along with changing the concept for their dining, as well as marketing approaches, and sourcing products to stay consistent.

“Everyday is a new challenge,” she said.

Heat at home family meals are one of the ways TJ’s Fresh Seafood Market & Grill responded to restaurant closures and reduced capacity during the pandemic.

For TJ’s Fresh Seafood Market & Grill owner Jon Alexis, the pandemic closures hit just as their Preston Royal location was really hitting its stride again after weeks of closures following the October 2019 tornado.

“The Preston Hollow community has been incredible. They have supported TJ’s through not only the tornado, but now this,” he said, but said that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard. “Completely changing our business model every few weeks (was one of the hard parts),” he said. “No sizable restaurant in America was set up to become a to-go commissary!”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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