The future of Erie PA restaurants? A dinner weekend could be a preview

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The post on Dominick’s Diner’s Facebook page on Feb. 22 couldn’t have been more somber.

“Unfortunately, despite our efforts, we have not managed to bounce back from all the problems linked to Covid, which has led to a permanent lack of activity, especially in the evening. As a result, we have to reduce our opening hours in an effort to stave off the next stage of probably having to close our doors, after more than 65 (years) of activity, if things don’t change drastically.”

Last Sunday, 19 days later, a Facebook scroller would have seen this post from Dominick’s:

“With your help, we had the best weekend we’ve had in just over two years!”

It’s a dramatic change, a spotlight through the drastic darkness. And the cause is clear: we don’t want to let another local business go easily, and especially not if the effort involves eating a meatball omelet.

Lots of omelets, really. Last weekend was just the first bite of the first meal, at one of many restaurants, among many other businesses whose owners and employees look to community support to prove that this suffering will end forever. as the pandemic appears to be waning.

“It’s not a ‘woe to us’ situation,” Dominick co-owner Tina Ferraro told Times-News reporter Jennie Geisler. “We’re not unique in this. I know. We’re just trying to be transparent about the issue.”

Tina and her husband Tony Ferraro sat down with Jennie for an article in the Times-News on March 9 that highlighted Dominick’s challenge to audiences beyond Facebook.

Continued: Is Dominick closing? Owners of downtown Erie fixture can’t make ends meet

“I think if nothing changes, we won’t get to summer,” said Tina Ferraro.

There is no reason to be surprised at the austere outlook.

The National Restaurant Association‘s 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry Report shows 51% of adults say they don’t eat out as often as they would like, up 6% since the start of the pandemic .

Meanwhile, 96% of operators said they faced supply delays or shortages in 2021, and the association notes that rising food, labor and occupancy costs over the past two years will remain high this year.

Continued: Too busy to stay open: Erie restaurants face ‘a long way to get back to business as usual’ after COVID

More than half of restaurateurs said it would take at least a year before a return to normal business conditions.

This year is added to two years of difficulties that companies have deployed by all means to survive.

Dominick’s received two Paycheck Protection Program loans totaling $72,000, according to Small Business Administration records. The restaurant was among nearly 3,000 businesses in the county that received loans ranging from $300 to more than $5 million, all intended to protect jobs.

Continued: PPP loans have injected millions into Erie County workplaces. Here’s who has the most

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act, provided more than $10 million to 42 Erie County businesses in 2021.

An additional $6.8 million was distributed to 189 small businesses in 2020 through the Erie County Redevelopment Authority as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Continued: Federal funds have brought more than $10 million to restaurants in Erie County. Here are the first 5 recipients

Continued: Search our Erie County Restaurant Revitalization Fund database

The Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants available through the Erie County COVID-19 Response Fund. Erie Arts & Culture has awarded grants to the creative community.

The Times-News has an active page for supporters to find ways to support more than 200 Erie County businesses, including gift certificates that earn them income now, even if you don’t redeem them for a while. time. Go to supportlocal.usatoday.com/city/erie-pa. Businesses can add their listing for free at any time.

Delivery. Exit. Limited indoor seating. Place outside. Staggered hours. Tactical temporary closures. Fundraising. Ghost kitchens. Reduced menus. If that’s an option, our local restaurateurs have tried it, and so have customers.

Continued: When It Comes To Dining, Erie Loves To Take It Outside: 10 Coziest Spots, 10 Best Views

Continued: “Ghost kitchens” do not appear; virtual restaurants hide in plain sight in Erie

These rescue attempts have brought us to today. The next step is complicated.

None of us ate every day in all the restaurants that are now in limbo; it is not possible to offset the earnings of two years of missed service.

Until workers accept open jobs, opening hours could remain reduced.

Until supply chains are strengthened, some prices will remain high and some items will be unavailable or frequently missing from menus.

Continued: Labor shortages persist in Erie; “It is always a problem and it will remain a problem”

Unless return-to-work plans bring employees back to offices in similar numbers to where many decamped for remote work from March 2020, and warm-weather tourism abounds again, foot traffic will not rebound completely.

And while unemployment in Erie County was 5.9% in December, the rate was still higher here than in the state and nation. There are also slightly fewer workers in the labor pool, and every county resident faces higher costs, from cat food to fuel.

The pandemic that set this in motion unfortunately remains a part of our lives. Cases have declined sharply over the past two months and community risk is considered low by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards. But avoiding busy indoor places is high on the health safety list for many Erie County residents, especially those whose conditions put them at greater risk of infection, or those who care, live with and visit those most at risk.

The question is not whether we care about our local economy, our businesses, our workers, our neighbours. Can we worry about it fast enough, on the necessary scale?

I was at Dominick’s for lunch a few days before Jennie’s article was published. My dining partner took the bill for my bacon omelet, my coffee and my exceptional service. Let’s say the tip made it a $15 meal for me, $30 for the two of us. Call enough of these routine tables regularly, day after day, and it’s possible again for a business owner to make revenue projections, think about next year, not just next month.

But just a dozen other people came and went during Dominick’s lunch hours on a weekday. That is why the hours there have been reduced. Too few customers or workers, which is why some popular lunch or dinner places are not open to serve these hours, why some bars are currently closing well before 2 am.

That’s why we can hope that the alarm sounded by the Ferraros, heard by diners on a weekend, will be the bell that sets off a community’s marathon.

“Please continue to visit us often. Your business is greatly appreciated,” Dominick’s Facebook post Sunday ended. “Who knows, maybe we can pull this off.”

Continued: What awaits Erie? Discover our full economic outlook for 2022

Matt Martin is the managing editor of the Erie Times-News and the Western Pennsylvania region of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at [email protected]

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