Struggling restaurant owner thinks more COVID-19 relief would have ripple effect

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Mayor Joe Hogsett had strong words Thursday for Congress and its inaction since lawmakers passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

His words came as more restaurants say they have months or even weeks left before they have to close for good.

These last couple weeks of December are crucial. January and February are usually the slowest months of the year for eateries, and that’s without a pandemic. But without help, more will not make it to March.

Cleaning was an all day job Thursday for Ross Katz, the owner of Rooster’s Kitchen on the far-east edge of Massachusetts Avenue. His business has been closed for a week after an employee tested positive. As he was wiping down a table, the phone rang.

“Every time the phone rings, it kills me inside,” Katz said.

He’s taken advantage of the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, the city’s rent abatement program, and every other grant or loan he could find.

“It really is just keeping us afloat at this moment,” he said.

He’s unsure how long he has left for a business opened just over four years ago.

“That’s really a hard question to ask,” Katz said. “Months, maybe.”

He’s cut hours for many of his employees but hasn’t laid anyone off yet.

“We’ve really tried to hold out as long as we could, but it’s come down to the fact that we won’t be around much longer if we don’t start making tough decisions.”

Down the street, there’s a few people wearing coats and jackets and having a drink or dinner outside. They included Erin Houchin at the Mass Avenue Pub. She’s is a former server and bartender.

“Trying to keep the places that make Indy special open,” Houchin said. “It hurts because we can’t support everybody. Trying to be a good patron kind of feels stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Earlier in the day, Indianapolis Democrat mayor spoke about the lack of action by Congress on further COVID-19 stimulus. “Unconscionable,” Hogsett said. “I have no other way to describe it other than deadly.”

Houchin, too, believes Congress should act. “Absolutely.”

As does Katz, who would love to see a similar Paycheck Protection Program bill go through, this time with more restrictions to help small businesses, especially ones in struggling sectors like food. He said action now will have a large ripple effect.

“It’s the government’s job to step in and help us do that, insuring that my employees have a job to come back to,” Katz said. “Making sure my business is still here, and my wife and I can still pay our mortgage.”

Katz added that if you want to help, buy local. If you are getting takeout or delivery, if you can, buy directly from the restaurant. He said third-party apps take about 30% of the order.