Strike two: Dining tents can return, at a cost
Kiauna Floyd, owner and operator of Amalfi's Italian Restaurant on Northeast Fremont Street, was surprised to get the news that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says outdoor dining is allowed again.
Floyd brought in tall tents with a 50 by 150-foot footprint to the Amalfi parking lot in June 2020 when indoor dining was nixed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After adding security guards to stop people from stealing the propane tanks and extension cords, and to keep homeless people from living in them, and heaters to keep diners warm, the tents cost $12,000 per month to rent.
Amalfi's last used the tents on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Floyd had the rental company strike the tents and take them away when the governor implemented the freeze.
The governor changed course Wednesday, November 25, saying that in extreme-risk counties (including Multnomah), restaurants can now seat up to 50 people for outdoor dining.
Now Floyd is frustrated but in no mood to get the dining tents back.
"When she revoked outdoor dining, we had to make a really tough decision on whether to keep our tents, which were just way too expensive to sit empty."
Floyd called the November "freeze" decision to end outdoor dining was "detrimental" to her business. Having to keep reacting to new decisions is difficult, too.
"And so, to now come back and say what — now you can do it? Well, for a lot of us, we've already made and invested in a different operational change to our business."
The cost of getting the tents back, and rehiring people who were laid off, is too much given the uncertainty, she said.
But there was also the stigma attached to tent dining, even though they had ventilation gaps.
"We started hearing a different narrative. There were doctors that were saying that it's worse than being indoors, which is counterintuitive, because they aren't sealed tight."
They had just started winterizing them and even decorating. She added, "There's a narrative out there that those tents are more harmful during COVID than coming indoors. So you're fighting that."
Down to take-out only
Amalfi's always had restaurant dining, catering and take-out businesses. All but the latter has been hit in recent months. Floyd estimates right now they are doing 40 percent of the business they were doing a year ago, pre-COVID-19.
"We've got all of our eggs in one basket and that's never good."
To diversify, she brought in more fridges for grab-and-go food and started selling holiday merchandise where the private dining use to be.
Floyd says they are better placed to survive than many eateries, because the third-generation family business owns its property and already had a strong take-out business. With a skeleton staff it may be able to survive a few more months.
"We'll be able to sustain it with a small work crew. The heartburn of all this is we had to lay off again 75% of our workforce. A lot of family members, a lot of vested employees that have been with us for many, many years.
"Many of them will come not back because they have to find a job elsewhere, they have bills and rent and mortgages and families. It was a tough decision."
As for Kate Brown, "I'd hate to be in the governor's position," Floyd said. "But when you make a decision like that, the trickle-down effects are just enormous. This is one of the hardest hit industries since the pandemic hit."
Floyd said her business got Paycheck Protection Program loans to keep staff on during the summer, but that money is long gone and she doesn't foresee any government help on the horizon.
"Right now, we're having to adapt, we're having to change. Hands down in the 25 years that I've been here this is the most challenging curveball thrown my way. We get the news and it's another, 'My gosh, pivot again?' It's like building an airplane as we're flying it."
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