File: Oliver Parini
Honey Road restaurant in Burlington
Local restaurateurs are circulating an online petition that asks Vermonters to help "save Vermont restaurants.” Launched over the weekend, the petition
seeks support as the industry plans for reopening of dine-in service — at a date yet to be named — after its state-mandated closure
on March 17 due to the coronavirus.
“We are here to let you know that the Vermont Restaurant Industry is in crisis and we need your support,” the petition reads. “Without easily accessible direct aid many restaurants will close permanently.”
By late Monday afternoon, the petition had more than 2,000 signatures and the number was rising steadily. The petition's goal is 2,500 signatures.
The document cites national statistics about the impact the coronavirus could have on the restaurant industry and provides data about the significance of the hospitality industry in Vermont.
The petition is an initiative of an informal restaurant group
, the Vermont Restaurant Coalition, that has about 160 members, according to organizers.
Vermont restaurants need direct aid from state and federal governments to help ensure their viability, said Eric Warnstedt, co-owner of four Vermont restaurants, including Prohibition Pig
in Waterbury, Doc Ponds
in Stowe and both Hen of the Wood
“The big, scary elephant in the room is what’s everyone going to do come November,” Warnstedt said. “That’s when we think the real, real problem will be in Vermont, with restaurants going away.”
The gist of the issue, he explained, is that restaurants will reopen with no cash reserves, reduced seating, a possibly soft market and slow tourism. These factors could converge at a time of year — summer — that's typically “the height of the season," he said.
“The only way we’ll survive is with state funding — it’s not loans, it’s grants,” Warnstedt said. “It can’t just be more debt. It just won’t work.”
The restaurant group behind the petition formed
early in the crisis “to communicate with each other and advocate for our industry,” said organizer Sue Bette, owner of Bluebird Barbecue
in Burlington. “And to work alongside formal organizations like the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce
Chamber president Tom Torti told Seven Days
on Monday afternoon that the organization supports the group's effort to get government assistance — as it supports “a balanced approach” for helping other industries, as well.
Torti emphasized that restaurants, bars and associated businesses are the “backbone” of Vermont’s tourism economy.
“The tourism industry is foundational,” Torti said. “It’s the absolute rock-solid foundation to our economy. Without restaurants, music venues and hotels for people to enjoy when they come here to bike, hike, boat, and whatever they do, we’re not that special that we can survive without an incredibly strong foundation to our tourism economy.”
Torti observed that restaurants and bars form the identity of many Vermont communities. In particular, he cited Waterbury, a place he said has “evolved” around food and drink.
“If they lose Prohibition Pig and all those other places, man, 30 years of planning and work and grassroots work start all over again," Torti said. "This is about community support and community development.”