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Restaurant owner talks about industry’s future for WISH-TV fundraiser

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — WISH-TV is proud to be partnering with the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association to host a fundraiser to support out of work Hoosiers in the hospitality industry due to the coronavirus.

Many bartenders, servers and hotel staff have taken serious pay cuts or have been without jobs for weeks.

Big Lug Canteen has about 20 locations of restaurants and markets around central Indiana. All of them have been seriously impacted due to the coronavirus leaving hundreds of people without work. The company is also losing out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by the week.

Eddie Sahm takes a humorous approach on Instragram as he works from home managing Big Lug Canteen properties, restaurants including Half Liter BBQ, Liter House and Sahm’s Place. But, the reality of this situation for him is quite serious. His restaurants would have had to resort to only carry-out services.

“So that really meant that daily sales were going to get erased, and we live in a daily sales world,” Sahm said.

Initially, they had to lay off about 90% of their staff for the foreseeable future.

“As we pivoted the business and we regained some revenue, we have been able to bring a lot of people back on. We up to about 200 people employed again and that was down to about 40 at one point,” Sahm said.

The company has found different ways to increase business. They include providing family and individual meals, and maintaining a full menu.

“Right now, we are somewhere around 80% to 70% loss of revenue,” Sahm said.

While curbside pickup has allowed restaurants to stay afloat, it in no way is matching normal profits.

“Where we can fit about 400 guests for us to get 400 people through a line in the same amount of time as a restaurant, it is not going to happen,” Sahm said.

For employees, this situation has meant wondering how they are going to make ends meet.

“They are working in a day-to-day world. I mean their tips are their income. So for them saying, ‘Hey, you’re cut’ on a Wednesday and ‘you’re not working anymore’ when Friday and Saturday were about to come up, that might be rent, that might be utilities,” said Sahm.

Even when restrictions on gatherings are lifted, Sahm says, restaurants are still going to have to control crowds and will not immediately reopen at full capacity.

On Thursday, the Hoosiers Helping Hoosiers fundraiser will launch starting at 4 a.m. and running until 11:30 p.m. Anyone can donate to support out-of-work restaurant workers, bartenders and hotel workers in central Indiana.

There are several ways you can donate.

These are the items up for auction:

  • Indiana Fever basketball signed by Natalie Achonwa.
  • Indiana Pacers jersey signed by Victor Oladipo, with a certificate of authentication.
  • Indianapolis Indians jersey signed by Razor Shines.
  • Indy Eleven jersey signed by Paddy Barrett and an unsigned Indy Eleven souvenir T-shirt.
  • Indianapolis Colts jersey signed by T.Y. Hilton.