“This isn’t an op-ed. This is an obituary.”
One year ago, I wrote these words about the dire state of the hospitality industry as we entered a new normal that was, and continues to be, anything but normal. With minimal governmental support, those words have sadly rung true for nearly 20 percent of restaurants in the United States — totaling well more than 100,000 businesses that have closed in a year that has changed the hospitality paradigm.
The remainder of us have either found a way to survive or are hanging on by our fingernails as we face the single greatest threat to small business in the modern age.
You might think that I am referring to the economic effects of COVID — the stifling closures and regulations and the crushing labor and inflation crises. With Nevada leading the country in resignation rates and unemployment rates and restaurants required to pay wages well beyond their means or the willingness of the public to support via price hikes, these are indeed challenging times to be in the hospitality game. These post-COVID ripple effects do indeed rattle businesses every single day.
But I’m actually referring to an even greater issue than masks and mandates. I’m referring to a plague, not unlike COVID, for which we have yet to find a vaccine or cure. I’m referring to the disease of governmental apathy and ignorance — a tangled, cancerous mass of red tape, excuses, backlogs, out-of-date systems and unconscionable indifference to the present and rapid needs of small businesses operating in a post-COVID world.
I’m referring to the terminal illness that so many small restaurants face as we lie on our deathbeds, waiting for the promised IV drip of so-called acronym cures such as the EIDL, RRF and other rescue efforts to arrive despite — at least in my case — almost a full year of emails and dithering indecision by our government and the Small Business Administration.
If we sound angry, that’s because we are angry. And if we sound scared, it’s because we are scared — scared of being left for dead by the very leaders who promised to lead us clear of disaster. The year 2020 and early 2021 brought some relief through county, state and federal programs (shout out to Clark County and our state Treasurer Zach Conine for leading this charge), but where has that relief gone in latter 2021 and going into 2022? Where has the promise to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund gone, and where are the promised programs to stimulate the hospitality sector at a time when business levels wane?
The fact is that our entire country is in an ongoing state of economic turmoil due to:
■ The fallout of the COVID crisis.
■ The hiring crisis affecting all parts of our state and country.
■ The supply chain crisis that has inflated costs to unfathomable levels.
■ The greatest inflation crisis in 30 years that has wrapped its icy hands around our throats and choked off supply channels.
All this while our leaders slap each other on the back for a job “well-done” in seeing restaurants reopen again amid a rousing chorus of complaints from the proletariat about pricing, service and supplies.
We need our leaders to lessen the logjam and shorten timetables for grants and loans; to enact sensible programs to sustain and support a hospitality industry that is the very lifeblood of economy both in Nevada and nationally.
If we sound angry, that’s because we are angry. And if we sound scared, it’s because we are scared — because your third-, fourth- and fifth-favorite restaurants are all on life support too, and time is running out for our leaders and governors to do their duty and administer an effective, longstanding cure.
Jeffrey Weiss is the chef and owner of Valencian Gold in Las Vegas and the author of the James Beard-nominated cookbook “Charcutería: The Soul of Spain.”