The intimate Michelin-starred Benno in the back of New York’s Evelyn Hotel has fallen into a long pandemic sleep. Chef Jonathan Benno was finally able to reopen his restaurant last September. He also revamped the Italian restaurant he ran inside the hotel, with Benno and Bar Benno both leaning on French cuisine. He hoped to be able to get his operations back on track.
But in December, as some restaurants across the country closed again to weather Omicron’s surge, Benno decided to pull the plug completely. “After careful consideration, Benno Restaurant will remain permanently closed following an outbreak of Covid,” he wrote on Instagram. “The pandemic has changed the landscape of this industry in ways we never could have imagined.”
Across the country, the latest Covid-19 surge has once again hit the beleaguered industry hard. After the post-vaccination glow of people returning to restaurants, successive waves took their toll and by December the effects were pronounced. According to a report by the Independent Restaurant Coalition, more than 60% of restaurants surveyed saw their sales drop by more than half in December. And restaurants that did not receive the limited amount of restaurant relief funds in 2021 are particularly hard hit. One in four of these restaurants are at risk of eviction and nearly half are on the verge of bankruptcy, according to the IRC report.
The speed at which Omicron spread made the problem acute. It is now the dominant variant in America shortly after being detected in the United States. The first case was reported on December 1 and as of January 1, it accounted for 95% of all Covid cases, according to the American Medical Association.
“It is so transmissible that many people are infected at the same time,” Stephen Parodi, an infectious disease doctor, told the AMA. It is estimated to be “one and a half to two times more transmissible than Delta.” And to put it into context, it is four times more transmissible than the original strains that were circulating at the start of the pandemic. »
Even though Omicron is decidedly more contagious than the initial strain that crippled the economy in 2020, government leaders haven’t locked down restaurants this time around. Despite this, many have returned to take-out-only operations during the holidays to limit exposure. And restaurant sales have plummeted as people go out less while waiting for Omicron, which has also caused an increase in cases among those vaccinated.
The new wave of economic hardship has led to another call from industry leaders for Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. When it was administered last summer, the $28.6 billion allocated in the US $1.9 trillion bailout law did not cover the $43 billion in grant requests. “Owners of independent restaurants and bars excluded from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund are taking on massive debt, laying off employees and selling personal assets to stay in business,” says IRC executive director Erika Polmar. “The nearly 200,000 restaurants and bars left behind in the first funding round are running out of time.”