(The Center Square) – About 80 percent of restaurant workers in New Jersey are still unemployed, according to information shared during a roundtable discussion hosted by
New Jersey Assemblyman Brian Bergen.
New Jersey’s restaurant industry employs about 300,000 workers, and most of them have not returned to work, according to information from the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.
Republicans are continuing to criticize Gov. Phil Murphy for keeping businesses, especially restaurants, closed during COVID-19, and one Democrat is asking Murphy to consider a regional reopening plan.
Murphy is allowing outdoor dining and curbside pickup but that is not enough to keep restaurants open, the group said in the discussion. Curbside pickup actually hurt restaurants, said Mike Perro, director of operations of P.J. Whelihan’s Restaurant Group.
“We were teetering. We were on the brink,” explained Perro. “Thank God, outdoor dining came along when it did, or we probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now having this discussion.”
The expansion to outdoor dining has been stalled by some restaurant landlords, said Bob Wagner, managing partner of Ott’s Restaurant Group.
“Some of these people who are stuck with these landlords and these leases that won’t let them use parts of the parking lot. [They] call me up for help, and I don’t know what to tell them,” Wagner said.
Bad weather and the summer heat also make outdoor dining challenging, the group said. And just before restaurants were slated to reopen July 2, Murphy issued an order that keeps them shuttered, citing fears of a possible uptick in cases.
The Legislature is considering a bill that will reimburse restaurant owners for food and supplies purchased in anticipation of reopening.
At a news conference last week, Murphy cited an incident where several patrons of a restaurant in China were diagnosed with COVID-19 after dining there.
“That the Governor, with a straight face, can cite a debunked study of an incident that happened over 8,000 miles away involving a restaurant in China with a wheezy, inadequate ventilation system that doesn’t conform to standards used in this country to justify continuing to kill businesses here in New Jersey is outrageous and demoralizing for anyone trying to hold out hope that there’s any real, scientific focus on our safety and the health of our economy,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth.
Some surrounding states have reopened businesses, O’Scanlon said.
“Keeping businesses like restaurants and gyms locked down isn’t doing anything other than decimating our economy,” O’Scanlon said. “We simply cannot continue on this unnecessary path.”
Democratic Sen. Troy Singleton is asking Murphy to consider a regional reopening plan.
“I’m hearing again and again from restaurant owners, gym operators, daycare centers and many others that they are barely hanging on by a thread,” Singleton said. “A regional reopening plan would allow us to meet both our public health and economic needs.”
Singleton said he has been advocating for the plan since late May. Restaurant owners say Murphy has never sat down with them.
“Maybe if he actually spoke with people like Mike and Bob and other people to really understand and walk him through what we do every day, he would be more comfortable,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association. “Unfortunately we were told that he would not meet with us.”