Although Gov. Kate Brown has banned crowds of over 250 people in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Oregon, she has not yet moved to close the state’s restaurants, as Illinois, Ohio, and Massachusetts recently have. However, a group of more than 60 food and drink workers — mostly restaurant owners — have come together to sign an open letter to Brown, asking her to immediately shut down the state’s restaurants and bars and to support those affected.
As an industry, we have always taken great care to provide a safe and clean environment for our staff and guests. However the very act of serving food to a diner requires that we violate social distancing protocols. We find ourselves faced with the impossible choice of putting our staff at risk physically or financially... We fear that by remaining open even in limited capacity, we are amplifying the COVID-19 crisis, not doing our part to flatten the curve or care for the community we so passionately serve. Yet we cannot close our businesses without your support.
The letter includes Kurt Huffman and other Chefstable owners who recently got a head start on closing, rather than waiting for state action. Other well-known signatories include Sam Smith of Tusk, Gabriel Rucker and Andy Fortgang of Canard and Le Pigeon, Maya Lovelace of Yonder, and Bonnie and Israel Morales of Kachka, all of whom face serious jeopardy with the fate of their businesses and livelihoods — with razor-thin profit margins, a disruption in service for more than a few days could utterly ruin a restaurant. A month-long closure means re-opening would be unlikely.
Business owners calling for their own restaurants to be closed by the state reflects the dire urgency of the situation — Portland has already had its first confirmed death from the virus, while nearby Seattle has suffered the bulk of confirmed fatalities in the United States. Along with mandated closures, the letter calls for financial support from the state, including a suspension of the payroll tax, a moratorium on commercial evictions plus assistance on commercial rent, and a deference of all business taxes for companies of a limited size; for workers the letter’s recommendations include immediate unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs or who are sick, as well as a moratorium on residential evictions.
The letter, in full, can be found below, and Eater PDX’s continuing coverage of COVID-19 and its effects on the Portland restaurant industry can be found here.
Update, March 16 4:39 p.m.: Gov. Brown has instituted a ban on crowds of over 25 people, and instituted an immediate cessation of dining room service throughout the state. The measures go into effect on Tuesday, March 17, and will remain so for the next four weeks at minimum. So far she has not addressed requests for relief in the form of moratoriums on evictions or a suspension on payroll taxes. She is, however, reportedly forming an advisory council to address economic concerns.