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Portland Restaurants: The Real Cost of the Snowstorms

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Portland chefs want more salt

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The Eater inbox has been flooded the past two days with restaurants and food carts reporting significant financial losses as a result of this winter’s multiple, severe snowstorms. Eater reached out to several restaurateurs to see how their businesses have been affected. And there’s one big elephant in the room: Should Portland salt the roads?

“Snow days are an unmitigated disaster,” says Kurt Huffman, owner of the ChefStable restaurant group (Ox, St. Jack). “It’s the same as any disaster that forces you to close your restaurant, but it’s almost impossible to get insurance for. So far this year, the snow days have been timed to cause the maximum damage. They’ve been days when most restaurants are busiest.”

Most restaurants operate on thin profit margins, which means they depend on each day’s sales to pay rent, payroll, etc. Huffman says a restaurant can lose as much as 20% of its bottom-line profits for the whole month from just one snow day. Naomi Pomeroy of Beast and Expatriate also says it’s a big hit, estimating a single snow day can cost between $3,000 to $6,000.

Ken Forkish of Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Trifecta Tavern, and Ken’s Artisan Pizza tells Eater he’s had to close his restaurants five days so far this winter. Whether he opens for the day or stays closed, “it’s a big financial loss,” he says. If you close, you lose a night’s business, and if you open, you incur the regular costs of doing business with few customers.

Some of the hardest-hit places are food carts. “In a restaurant, there is shelter, comfort, and alcohol (possibly) — a place to be,” says Don Salamone of the Burger Stevens food cart. “At a cart, unless it's beautiful out, it's 'get your food and go.’ In these winter days, we take in about $500 to $700 a day, and when we have to close... it hurts.”

When asked if there’s any solution to help Portland’s businesses face snow days, many restaurateurs said it would be nice if the city were better prepared. “Up until the current blizzard, if the city had salted the roads,” says Forkish, “the entire metro area could’ve kept operating — not just restaurants. I probably wouldn’t have had a single closure or suffered any of the financial losses we’ve had.”

Unlike many cities, the City of Portland uses little to no salt to melt the snow and ice on roads, because it has been shown to harm the environment. Eater has reached out to City of Portland commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Bureau of Transportation, for an update on the City’s position, regarding salt use.

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