Since spreading to Arizona in January, COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and a national emergency. It has seemingly infiltrated every pixel of the news and corner of our lives. Though the number of recorded Arizona cases remains low (a deceiving metric, given the lack of testing), the virus has already started to affect the hospitality industry.
We surveyed a few local restaurant and bar operators to get a sense of how.
Though this is just a preliminary glimpse (and we plan to track developments closely), things aren’t looking great. Most places we spoke with have seen business stagnate, dip a little, or drop a lot. We've previously observed how sales have declined at Chinese restaurants. But not even the most popular figures in our restaurant scene have been immune.
Chris Bianco says he's seen a decline in business, noting that his team is working diligently and staying positive. Same with Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe and Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva.
“Business is down drastically,” Esparza says.
Downtown, where restaurants and bars benefit from events, tourists, and people who work away from home, things have slowed in many places. “The convention traffic has completely ceased,” says Ross Simon of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour and Little Rituals. “We’re definitely seeing that impact.”
Stephen Jones of the Larder + the Delta voices the same concern. “People are scared,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many cancellations we’ve had.”
Not everyone has seen a dip. Downtown, Dwayne Allen of The Breadfruit and Rum Bar notes that things have been about the same. Oren Hartman of NakedQ, who has locations in Phoenix, Chandler, and Scottsdale, says he hasn’t observed any slowdown just yet — though he notes his costs have risen, due to purchasing extra gloves and cleaning supplies. Drew Pool of Wren House Brewing Company says the taproom hasn’t been affected, though recent days have seemed busy with folks from the work-from-home crowd.
Several other chefs and operators describe a light slowdown, including Doug Robson (Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe), Aaron Chamberlin (Taco Chelo and Phoenix Public Market Café), and Samantha Sanz (Talavera).
At Cotton & Copper in Tempe, Tamara Stanger says that sales have been normal, the dining room consisting mostly of “out-of-towners here for spring training with nowhere to go,” given game cancellations. Once they're gone next week, she fears, it “will be a ghost town.”
Stanger mentions how, as an operator, the virus catalyzes sets of concerns beyond sales. Staffing is one. “I ... can’t even risk having any staff showing any signs of illness,” she says. “That hurts us on labor, but it’s an important step.”
For employees who make a living on tips, missing work is, of course, a frightening thing.
Several chefs and operators are quick to emphasize our moment in the restaurant season. Now is supposed to be the boom time: balmy March days, baseball, concerts, and conventions. But these events and gatherings have mostly been canceled or postponed. And after this stretch of canceled events and missed profits, summer will begin — the lean season for restaurants in the desert.
“Definitely worried about the industry as a whole,” says Stanger.
“I think you’re going to see quite a few restaurants not make it through,” says Jones.
Like Stanger and Jones, most people voiced concern for the future. Most also expressed solidarity, noting that many restaurants are taking extra precautions to remain as clean as possible. Given the lack of a federal response to the COVID-19 crisis, nobody can say where things are headed, but for now you can certainly provide vital support to your favorite bars, breweries, and restaurants.
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