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Philly’s Most Influential Restaurateurs Ask the Government to Save Restaurants

Local restaurant owners like Nicole Marquis, Stephen Starr, Ellen Yin, and Marc Vetri are calling for immediate action

HipCityVeg owner Nicole Marquis led a group of Philly restaurant owners in petitioning government officials.
HipCityVeg [official photo]

With dining rooms closed and a stay-at-home order in effect in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Philadelphia restaurants big and small are struggling to survive. Some are closed for now, and some are staying open for takeout and delivery as long as they can, but there’s no question that all Philly restaurants, and their hundreds of laid-off restaurant workers, are in crisis. As a response, more than 40 local restauranteurs representing over 150 eateries signed a petition on Monday, March 23, asking the government to take immediate action.

Nicole Marquis of the vegan fast-casual chain HipCityVeg organized the effort.

The petition, which is addressed to city, state, and federal legislators, reads in part: “These are very dark days for us. Right now, our future, with just a trickle of our former income, looks very bleak. We have had to close many of our restaurants entirely and lay off all or nearly all of our beloved teams. None of us has a clear path to survival beyond a couple of weeks from now. As you know, restaurants run on very tight margins, and without daily revenue, we cannot pay our rent, our employees, our vendors, or ourselves. Unlike other industries, restaurants do not have deep reserves for slower days, let alone months.”

The restaurateurs go on to lay out five priorities:

1. Emergency unemployment benefits for our laid off employees (eliminating the 4-week delay to receive checks);

2. Rent abatement and a moratorium on commercial and residential evictions and collection actions for at least 60 days (mandated 60 day grace period to avoid defaults);

3. Government intervention to require insurers to provide business interruption coverage related to closures that are mandated by the government related to the current health crisis;

4. Emergency loans with no or low interest to businesses that are impacted by the government mandated closures.

5. Declare a state sales tax “holiday” for restaurant pick-up and delivery orders, so that restaurants who stay open can compete on an even paying field with grocery delivery services (which are not generally subject to sales tax).

Greg and Julie Vernick, Ellen Yin, Marc Vetri, Stephen Starr, Michael Schulson, Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, Fergus Carey, and Nick Elmi are among the many Philly restaurant owners who added their names to the petition.

“Philadelphia won’t have its iconic restaurants if we don’t get assistance immediately,” Marquis writes in an email. “We have weeks, not months, before many of us will never be able to reopen.”

Philadelphians can also show their support by signing the petition.

Update: In one effort to support small businesses, the city created the Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund. It’s designed to provide immediate relief in the form of grants and zero-interest loans to local businesses, which can apply here.