Christos Giannes permanently closed Kouzina Christos on December 7, the Marietta-based Greek restaurant he and his family owned for more than 40 years. Like so many restaurants struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, a devastating loss of revenue over the last nine months and lack of substantial rent relief became insurmountable.
Over the weekend, chef Mel Toledo announced plans to close Foundation Social Eatery on December 31 after six years in east Roswell. Toledo had been searching for a new location prior to the pandemic, and continued extending the lease on the Holcomb Bridge Road restaurant past its March 2020 expiration date. Last week, the landlord informed Toledo a new tenant would be moving into the space early next year.
“Our lease officially expired in March 2020, and we’ve been continually extending it by a few months at a time while we continued our search for a new location,” he writes in an Instagram post. “A week ago, our landlord informed us they had found another tenant to take on a long term lease and gave us our 45 day notice to vacate. Remember that this is not goodbye, it’s ‘we’ll see you soon!’”
He still hopes to reopen the restaurant in a new location closer to Atlanta.
Kouzina Christos and Foundation Social Eatery join a growing number of restaurants closing (even temporarily) amid the health crisis. The lack of a coordinated federal effort to assist small businesses has lead to messy, uneven responses to the crisis — turning health and safety precautions, like wearing a mask or limiting seating capacity, into political issues. It leave owners like Giannes and Toledo with little choice but to renegotiate lease agreements and navigate confusing local and state requirements in order to keep patrons and employees safe and their businesses open.
According to a recent COVID-19 impact survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, 52 percent of Georgia restaurant owners expect sales to decrease even further in the next quarter. Nearly 40 percent of Georgia restaurant owners don’t expect their business to survive another six months without federal aid.
Manuel’s Tavern owner Brian Maloof counted on another round of stimulus money this fall. With business down an average 62 percent and the bar losing around $25,000 per month, the 64-year-old Poncey-Highland bar was in serious danger of closing at the end of December. A GoFundMe campaign raised nearly $180,000 to pay the renewal of Manuel’s 2021 alcohol license and cover insurance and payroll, sparing Maloof from closing the bar for good.
But as winter makes outdoor dining less feasible, and with rent and alcohol renewal fees coming due for restaurants and bars across Atlanta, 27 percent of Georgia restaurant owners say they may temporarily close their establishments until the pandemic ends.
Chef Joey Ward, the owner of year-old restaurants Southern Belle and Georgia Boy in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood, announced a “temporary halt” in operations, beginning January 1, 2021. Citing cold weather making outdoor seating “unbearable”, a rise in COVID-19 cases, and lack of government aid, Ward plans to shut down service at both restaurants through the “heart of the winter.”
Despite all of the creative pivots to remain open during the pandemic, including offering robust takeout options or launching a retail arm to the business, owners can only reinvent their restaurants so many times.
Bipartisan support for a new round of stimulus money that would pump more than $900 billion into the economy came just after Thanksgiving. But the majority of this money will be directed to industries other than hospitality. While it does infuse an additional $300 billion into the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), the proposed bill falls short in addressing the needs of the floundering restaurant industry and its workers.
Delays to pass a new relief bill began with President Donald Trump who asked his “representatives” in September to stop the negotiations, tweeting that talks would resume “immediately after I win” the election. Then, in October, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would refuse to pass any bill that didn’t include liability protection for businesses if employees became sick while working during the health crisis. It’s a stance that continues to delay the passage of the bill in Congress and leaves the restaurant industry’s workforce legally, financially, and physically vulnerable to the virus.
“...the restaurant industry simply cannot wait for relief any longer. Efforts in Washington to find the ‘perfect’ solution are laudable, but the lack of progress in the meantime has led too many operators to give up on the government and close down for good,” a recent letter to congressional leadership from the National Restaurant Association reads. “Since our last update to you, less than three months ago, an additional 10,000 restaurants have closed nationwide.”