TRENTON, NJ - Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce eased restrictions on serving customers at restaurants and bars at his June 1 press briefing, but owners are concerned the guidance he provides will be little more than an appetizer.
Murphy's guidance is that no one is to be allowed indoors - outdoor dining and drinks only, according to several sources, - at 25 percent capacity.
Not good enough, say the owners, who have been struggling to make ends meet, limited to take out and delivery orders and more recently, the sale of pre-mixed cocktails for delivery and consumption off-premises.
Not every restaurant has the real estate or capability of outdoor dining, according to several restaurant owners. Outdoor dining will not help them.
Empty tables, empty bar stools have taken their toll.
"What we're looking for is a clear plan out of Trenton" said Jim Daley, co-owner of the Dunellen Hotel on North Washington Avenue with partner Rich Hendricks. "Guidelines and protocols; timing and capacity. How do we get from 25, 50 percent to 75 percent capacity," he added.
"I don't know how anybody is going to survive unless they open us up," said John Ellery, owner of Ellery's neighborhood bar and restaurant on Lincoln Boulevard in Middlesex.
Ellery hosted a meeting with several other restaurant and bar owners last Thursday to exchange ideas; the same day the recently formed Mayors for Main Street alliance, with members from four central New Jersey counties, sent a letter to Murphy suggesting he let local business owners and elected officials make decisions for themselves and to allow all "non-essential" businesses, including restaurants, to re-open.
The mayors characterize their recommendations as "appropriate and necessary steps."
"Local elected officials are more connected to the community they represent than any other public official," the mayors say in their letter, "and it is incumbent upon us as mayors to advocate for the needs of our communities. We have heard those needs loud and clear and now we need you to act."
The following day, the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association held a press conference on the boardwalk in Sea Bright to underline their plight and to ask Murphy to allow the state's restaurants to re-open on June 5th. https://www.facebook.com/NJRHAssociation
"We are standing in one of the worst hit areas of Hurricane Sandy and it took years to rebuild. This crisis makes Sandy look like a rainy day," said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association.
"It is imperative to get our employees back to work," she said. "As the state’s largest employer, this will also give great relief to the state’s economic situation," she added
Two days following Murphy's June 1 announcement, the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association will hold an 11 a.m. press conference at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick.
"The purpose is to urge the Governor to "Let Us Get Open" We need indoor and outdoor dining. Not everyone has a place to expand to," said Diane Weiss, executive director.
State Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-16th, was invited to the May 28 meeting at Ellery's.
"There was pent-up emotion, frustration and a desire to movie it forward quickly, which I can appreciate," said Freiman, a resident of Hillsborough. "People have investments and you have to recognize that every business is unique; it's difficult to legislate if you have to cover all the nuances of restaurants,' he added.
"What can we do, what makes sense," Freiman continued. "They all had good ideas and a desire to do it properly. I think ultimately the governor is gong to get there; everyone wants to have it happen sooner rather than later."
"I'm over it, I'm done with this" said Mike Proske, owner of two Somerville restaurants, Project P.U.B. and Tapestry at the corner of North Bridge Street and West High Street. "I need to see some people come through the doors, get some bills paid and bring back more of my employees," he added. "I certainly can't do that at 25 percent occupancy. We're all in a tough spot right now."
Revenues from take-out and delivery have done little other than to keep a few people employed, according to several owners. There's not much left to pay suppliers, insurance carriers, banks and other bills.
"There's absolutely no benefit for being outside, no benefit from take-out ot to go drinks, that's all placebo stuff," said Rick St. Pierre, owner of Verve Bar, Restaurant & Bistro on E. Main Street, Somerville, across from the historic Somerset County Courthouse.
"We have to open up across the board, and we provide the spacing and protocols that we and our customers decide," he added.