Pine Belt restaurants hoping for COVID-19 relief

Pine Belt restaurants hoping for COVID-19 relief

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The pandemic hit businesses hard, especially restaurants. Restaurants in Mississippi are offering limited dine-in space and take-out but are still suffering financial losses.

Robert St. John owns multiple Hattiesburg restaurants and is one of the founders of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. He said last March, he filed a mass unemployment claim and prepared for the worst.

“Well, it was scary, you know, [the] restaurant business is pretty brutal just in normal times,” St. John said. “But when you throw in a global pandemic – it’s seemingly, at least in the early days, unworkable, and we just really weren’t sure what was to come. I mean within a month or two I wasn’t sure if we were going to have any restaurants.”

St. John was also concerned for his employees since restaurants staff a lot of people.

“I go to bed every night responsible for 300 people that work with us, and so the decisions I make, you know, impact a lot of families,” St. John said.

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe marketing manager Colton Arnold agrees that it was tough.

“I think just like everyone else it hit us unexpectedly, and we did have to shorten our staff a little bit,” Arnold said. “Even in Hattiesburg, you drive around and if you notice there are a lot of restaurants specifically that have shut down and, you know, getting some help at the beginning could have prevented that possibly.”

The Independent Restaurant Coalition is hoping for a relief bill for restaurants from the legislature.

“All these locally owned, independent restaurants, that’s what we got to fight to keep,” St. John said. “But those are the restaurants that are undercapitalized.”

“Relief would help with mainly either rent or paying your employees, and that’s your two major factors,” Arnold said.

Restaurants that have survived this long are facing debts from the months they were closed as well as the new cost of PPE and sanitizing products.

Local owners say these financial impacts likely won’t go away without help.

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