Robert LeBlanc of the local restaurant operator LeBlanc + Smith, which closed its Magazine Street restaurant Cavan in September, was one of the speakers at a press conference Thursday (Nov. 4) held by the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
The association is urging Louisianians to call on local members of Congress — especially Sen. John Kennedy, who sits on the Senate’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee — to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, or RRF, part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
“Restaurants are on the brink of extinction,” said Erika Polmar of the IRC, opening the press conference.
LeBlanc said his locations have been struggling during the pandemic. “Three of my five places have closed, with 25 jobs lost,” LeBlanc said. “As an example, one of my restaurants had a 40-seat capacity indoors and with the restrictions of table distances and limited capacity, I could serve eight customers. This is not viable.”
Cavan has become an event venue. Two of the group’s French Quarter locations, Meauxbar and Longway Tavern, also closed during the pandemic, but RRF money helped the group reopen Longway as The Will and The Way.
“I got RRF for only one of my places, so it is stable, but the others are hanging by a thread,” Smith said on Thursday. “I can tell you that the RRF does make a difference.”
According to Independent Restaurant Coalition: “Many of these businesses are on the brink of permanent closure because Congress did not allocate enough relief for the RRF. There were 2,978 Louisiana restaurants left behind in the first round of funding. More than 90,000 restaurants and bars have already closed and the small businesses that remain open are crushed by 20 months of debt, rising food costs, and consumer hesitancy due to the Covid-19 Delta variant. Reservations in New Orleans are 48% below their 2019 levels. And 21% of all jobs lost during the pandemic in Louisiana still come from restaurants and bars.”
“The past 20 months have changed the face of the restaurant industry,” he said. “The anger and fear have been unforgettable, to have to lay off employees. Some of them will never come back.”
Bodenheimer stated that if there is no consistency in the amount of business, it is difficult to keep the bottom line in the black. Low pay and uncertainty are driving employees away from the industry, the restaurateurs said.
“Today my places are open, but only one in four got the RRF. It remains touch and go,” he said. “I am always asking myself ‘Will they make it?’”
To support more funding for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, contact Sen. John Kennedy here.