LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky restaurant owners, including celebrity Chef Ed Lee, are struggling to stay in business amid COVID-19 restrictions and say they can't stay afloat much longer if Congress doesn't act.
Many people know Lee from his time on the show "Top Chef." He owns four restaurants, two in Louisville including 610 Magnolia, which he says is dangerously close to going under without federal funding.
"There are nights where we do two tables ... and it's just brutal," Lee said. "We've been here for 19 years. I love this restaurant, it's the place that gave me my voice and my career."
During a conference call Friday morning with the Independent Restaurant Coalition, Lee said Kentucky limiting indoor seating to 25% of maximum capacity means restaurants are losing money every day they're open. He said the same thing is happening nationwide. Two of Lee's are restaurants are in the Washington, D.C., area.
"I talk to other chefs every day. Stress is an understatement. It is a disaster, quite frankly, nothing short of a disaster right now. "
IRC is trying to turn up the heat on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, to support the Restaurant ACT. The $120 billion legislation, proposed in April, would provide federal grants to keep restaurants from being eaten up in the pandemic.
Anoosh Shariat, owner of Noosh Nosh and Anoosh Bistro, told WDRB Wednesday that federal legislators need to make some serious readjustments.
"We're making the sacrifice, our staff is making the sacrifice but without government help no business can make it like this," he said.
An executive order from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear closed bars in Kentucky Tuesday and implemented the 25% capacity restriction for restaurants. The tighter restrictions follow recommendations from the White House for actions to take in states where COVID-19 cases are surging.
The Restaurant Act was not part of the latest aid package proposed by Senate Republicans this week.
Instead, The HEALS ACT included money for personal protective equipment, education, direct payments for the public and more paycheck protection loans for small businesses.
McConnell said in a speech this week that the HEALS ACT is "all about the workers because a huge percentage of Americans making $40,000 and less have been hit the hardest and they're mainly in the hospitality industry - hotels, restaurants."
"We want those hotels and restaurants to survive and to thrive," he said, "and the provisions in there related to them help them keep their doors open so these folks have a job to go back to."
Lee supported the first round of PPP but says it's not what restaurant owners need now to survive.
"It's not just payroll that's becoming so grave right now. It's rent, taxes and food products. It's all the things you need to keep a restaurant running."
Analysts say food service is a $9 billion dollar industry in Kentucky with more than 200,000 workers. The Kentucky Restaurant Association estimates 20% of the restaurants in the state will close due to the pandemic.
Lee said sales in his four restaurants are down 70% from before the pandemic hit. He's cut staff from 400 to about 100 company wide. He's running day to day, and there are not many left.
'We calculate roughly a month or two," Lee said. "It's a struggle every day, most of our days are just looking at how debt is piling up."
IRC says if passed the Restaurant ACT would send $2 billion to Kentucky and cut the national unemployment rate by about 2.4%.
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