Not content with interrupting JP Powell’s side concert, the pandemic also had a crack in his day job.
In mid-March 2020, Powell’s group were halfway through a recording session at the North Carolina studio of Mitch Easter (who produced REM’s debut album) when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic. . Angered by the news, bandmate Hunter Johnson began to think of their bread and butter, literally: the couple co-own two restaurants in Roanoke, southwest Virginia.
Johnson returned Thursday night to check on operations at Lucky and Fortunato. With the recording sessions winding down, Powell called the clock and returned on Friday.
In a few days, “business fell off a cliff.” The governor of Virginia announced a series of orders closing schools, restaurants and bars, leading to a lockdown by the end of March. The cash buffers of around $ 50,000 at each of the restaurants evaporated as regular expenses fell due. Important decisions were announced.
“I might have fired one, two, three people in 10 years,” said Powell, tearfully. “So firing 45 people was just a really heavy experience just firing people.”
Fearing the national unemployment system would be overwhelmed, Powell went to the restaurant bank. âWe borrowed $ 70,000 to do payroll and pay our employees an extra week’s salary in case unemployment benefits don’t go out,â he says.
With a dozen full-time employees between them, a year of constant change is now shaping up. Despite being half a block apart, “the two restaurants had different models”; only Lucky could provide alfresco dining when the city permitted.
With the fall wave of Covid-19 cases accelerating, Powell voluntarily suspended indoor dining at both restaurants after Thanksgiving. Winter conditions and a statewide curfew then made the on-the-go model less successful than in the spring.
January and February were “catastrophic” and Fortunato was out of money, Powell says. “Either we were going to shut it down and everyone was going to be unemployed, or we were going to borrow more money and move the ball forward until more funding came in – which he did – or vaccines.” arrive. “
The restaurants applied for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program during the first two rounds of pandemic stimulus packages and also received funding from the City of Roanoke as part of a program to State to support small businesses.
Without the funding, âwe would never have stayed open,â says Powell: âIt has allowed us to fight and change, adapt and survive the virus. “
There have been times last year that Powell says he thought about quitting the restaurant business, “but when you’re the boss, you can’t fire yourself.” He blew up all his savings and he and his business partner lost about $ 120,000 last year.
Powell is more optimistic about the outlook this year, but still prefers to play it safe in restaurants; something he says customers and staff are grateful for. A return to full employment and business will still take time, says Powell, perhaps in the spring of 2022. âBut if it hits 75 percent by September or October [this year], I totally agree with that.
This is the latest in a series for the blog that explores the effects of the pandemic on people and businesses around the world.