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The Food And Beverage Industry Is Getting A Lifeline In The Latest Relief Package

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you happened to be talking with folks in the restaurant business yesterday, you might have heard something like a collective sigh of relief when President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill into law. More than 110,000 restaurants have closed during the pandemic, and the relief package includes money specifically for independent and small chain restaurants. The Independent Restaurant Coalition formed to call for more specific aid, and that is now coming to the tune of $28.6 billion.

Amanda Cohen is chef and owner of the New York City restaurant, Dirt Candy. She's also a co-founder of the coalition, and she joins us now from New York.

Amanda Cohen, welcome.

AMANDA COHEN: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be on the show.

KELLY: Did I capture that reaction right from yesterday? Was there a sigh of relief from a lot of people in your industry?

COHEN: Oh, a huge sigh of relief. I'm sure it's the first time many of us have had a good night's sleep in a year. This is something we have been working on and waiting for and really needed.

KELLY: Why did it give you a good night's sleep? What specifically are you thinking is going to change now?

COHEN: Well, I think it's going to allow us to start planning a bit for the future. I think the past year has been a roller coaster of unknowns, and this is one of the few knowns that we will have to sort of count on so that we can be there when the economy really starts to open up, when we're really able to start hiring people. And, you know, it's a future. It's a lifeline for us.

KELLY: I mentioned that past relief measures have included loans, these PPP loans that people have heard so much about. The new measure includes grants, which is different. Why was that important to you?

COHEN: Well, restaurants cannot take on any more debt at this point. There's just no way...

KELLY: Loans you have to pay back, in theory...

COHEN: That's right.

KELLY: ...Is what you're saying. Yeah.

COHEN: Exactly. And the PPP might turn into a grant for lots of people. It might also not. Forgiveness has really just started. But this is sort of founded on the idea that it is a grant.

KELLY: How is business going for you? What's the scene right now at your restaurant?

COHEN: By and large, business has been pretty terrible. I'm a destination restaurant. I ran on tourists. There are not a lot of tourists coming to New York City at the moment. And we're down a good 75%, if not more. You know, I think two nights ago on Tuesday, we made $500. We used to make $12,000 a night.

KELLY: Do you worry whether it will ever come back? Will the restaurant scene in New York, of all places - the place where everybody who's not there dreams of getting, you know, to restaurants there. Do you think it will ever come back the way it was?

COHEN: I hope so. And I hope it comes back a little bit differently, actually. I think we've all sort of had a year to reflect on how we want to run our businesses and how we can change them. And I think I'd like to look at my margins a little bit more and make them not quite so slim. I'd like to set up some more programs so that my employees have a bit more support in the restaurant. I run a restaurant that doesn't have tipping, but I think there's so much more we can do for our employees.

KELLY: Is that a cappuccino being made behind you that I can hear?

COHEN: It is. I'm so sorry. I'm in the restaurant, and actually where I'm sitting is the quietest place.

KELLY: (Laughter) Oh, I just look forward to the days where we can roam the world again. And I would love to come buy a cappuccino at your restaurant.

COHEN: I would love to have you.

KELLY: Well, Amanda Cohen, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

COHEN: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on.

KELLY: She's a co-founder of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, and she is chef and owner of the New York City restaurant Dirt Candy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FELBM'S "FUNICULAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.