Iowa’s restaurant workers face tough times

Iowa’s restaurant workers face tough times

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DES MOINES — Iowa’s hospitality industry could be hit with restaurant closings and layoffs without some government financial aid in the wake of a gubernatorial order that halted in-house dining for at least two weeks over concerns about the coronavirus.

Jessica Dunker, president and chief executive of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said Gov. Kim Reynolds’ order Tuesday limiting gatherings to 10 people and closing bars, restaurants, casinos and other businesses will impact 6,000 operators and their 155,000 employees.

Dunker said she was expecting to see at least half — or about 80,000 restaurant workers — join the state’s unemployment rolls in the next several days.

“We are the second-largest private-sector employer in the state of Iowa and we will need assistance,” Dunker said in an interview. “If we receive no assistance, it would be likely that we would see 2,000 to 3,000 establishments fold under permanently,”

Under the governor’s directive, all restaurants and bars are closed to the public, but food and beverages may be sold on a carryout or drive-through basis.

Even in good times, Dunker said, many Iowa eateries are operating at 5 percent net profit margins. So Tuesday’s announcement could force hundreds of establishments to decide “we can’t hold on for very long,”

Carl Wertzberger, managing partner of several restaurants in the Des Moines metro area, sent a plea to patrons.

“I write this with tears in my eyes as I ask for your help. Our governor made the difficult decision to shut our industry down to help the greater good,” Wertzberger said in an email appeal.

“I pray that it works. Unfortunately, that puts my work family and our livelihoods in an extremely difficult position. Many small businesses will not survive,” he added. “What I’m about to ask is extremely difficult and heartbreaking. I need your help, no I’m begging for your help. Please purchase gift cards to help us survive this very difficult time.”

Sarah Rivera, owner of Della Viti, a wine bar in Cedar Rapids, said she will continue to offer carryout lunch and coffee, as well as retail wine sales. But she is worried. Most of her business comes from wine and drink sales from sit-down customers, which she will lose for now.

“We might be one of the businesses that isn’t able to bounce back. It really is day by day, if people are able to come out and support us,” she said.

Dunker said the governor’s office has been cooperative with the restaurant industry while balancing Iowa’s public health needs with the business impact.

“We needed and the governor responded with ways to keep that food supply open for business to Iowa consumers rather than concentrating everyone into the grocery stores,” she said. “We think it’s important that we provide that service. That being said, we are not going to make money on that and so we will be seeking significant assistance to try to keep our industry from collapsing on the other side of this.”

Alison Gowans of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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