Challenges Remain For Restaurants Despite Eased Restrictions

Apr 30, 2021

Revised state guidelines on virus restrictions that took effect on April 30 mean restaurants in Bernalillo County can now have indoor dining at 50 percent capacity. These restrictions have fluctuated over the past year and that’s been challenging for restaurants as they laid off staff, reduced hours and adapted to more takeout service.

Last year, KUNM spoke with Myra Ghattas owner of Albuquerque’s Slate Street Café, Slate at the Museum and Sixty-Six Acres. During a recent check in, Ghattas says there’s more demand for in-person dining, but it’s difficult to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels.

MYRA GHATTAS: I think it's a combination of things. I think that some people elected to find other industries and other career paths during the pandemic. And I think some people are reaping the benefits of unemployment that might pay more than their old job did. And I think some people are still in a state of being very conscious of the pandemic and not wanting to expose themselves. And all of those things combined create a very difficult environment for businesses to hire.

KUNM: In terms of the restrictions that are still here, how they fluctuated. What does that mean in terms of ordering supplies, and food and planning menus,

GHATTAS: Everything is challenging, everything is more difficult. Everything costs more. I think it's pandemic related. And I think the supply chains just got a little wonky. All the restaurants closed pretty abruptly, all the food warehouses and distributors had warehouses full of food that were no longer being sold. So the supply and demand really changed rapidly. And they adjusted. So now that we're reopening, the supply is no longer what it was a year ago, a little over a year ago. We struggle with staffing, we struggle with all of the new things that we have to do like all of the mask wearing and the sanitation and making sure we're on top of all of those things and the training, and everything just seems a bit harder. So currently, both of my full-service restaurants are closed on Mondays. That is specifically because of staffing shortages. Slate Street Cafe has not been able to open up at nighttime yet. So all of these things are kind of a balancing act.

KUNM: Are you making this work financially? Let me just be blunt.

GHATTAS: It's challenging. I will say that the federal programs that have come out thus far, the PPP loan program, as well as county, city, state grants, I was able to apply and I was awarded a lot of those. And that's helped us. I can pretty much tell you if I didn't get the first PPP loan, I don't think I would be open, I don't think I would have survived.

KUNM: Now that's interesting, because when we talked last year, you had gotten a PPP loan, but you were saying it didn't really work for restaurants. You were considering giving it back. So what's the update?

GHATTAS: I was considering giving it back and it did not work for restaurants. Congress went to work on that. And they made some significant changes to it. And those changes made it work for me.

KUNM: The legislature passed and the governor signed a deduction for gross receipts for restaurants Is that helpful?

GHATTAS: Everything helps. It's a little one. But we'll take a little, big, medium, we'll take anything. Part of the last stimulus package is the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. That's huge. There is $28 billion in there and that is specifically for restaurants. And that will help our industry. Once they roll that out, they haven't quite rolled it out yet, but that'll be a big one. Where the prior programs, the PPP programs, that everybody's familiar with, are loans, and there is a forgiveness process for those loans, but that process is lengthy and you don't necessarily get forgiven on that money. This, as long as you use this money for the right things, and there's a broad definition of what you can use it for, is considered a grant, which means we don't have to pay it back. And I think this will be the biggest thing to help my industry restaurants survive and restart as the pandemic declines. I would add, I always what want to add this, I really encourage people to support local independent restaurants and other businesses and to also support them with a grain of salt, meaning it is really hard right now. So some people come back to restaurants and expect everything to be the same. It's not the same. It's hard. We're really trying to offer the same level of service, but we're doing it in different circumstances. So keep supporting us but be patient with us too. Thanks, Megan.

New Mexico has waived job search requirements for those getting unemployment benefits. But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said this week the state will soon adopt new policies encouraging people receiving jobless benefits to go back to work.