NEW JERSEY — The owner of Sweet Waters Steakhouse in Westfield stocked up for the restart of indoor dining in advance of the July Fourth weekend. That was before Gov. Phil Murphy announced the cancelation of inside dining two days before its anticipated comeback originally slated for July 2.
Frank DiLollo purchased meat and fish, among other foods, for diners anticipated to visit his gourmet restaurant in Union County, where menu items include a $48 cowboy steak and a $39 Chilean Sea Bass.
“I spent a lot of money getting prepared,” DiLollo said. “It was a lot of money for me after losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past three months.”
DiLollo is hardly the only restaurateur to experience the loss, something Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Westfield, hopes the state can help out with.
Bramnick is proposing a bill that that would reimburse restaurants for monies they paid out in anticipation of operating indoor dining at 25% capacity over the July 4 weekend.
“The legislation would say if a restaurant can show if they spent money based on the government plan to open on July 2 that the government should reimburse for the out-of-pocket expenses as a result of the reliance on that date,” Bramnick told NJ Flavor.
An anticipated companion bill has gained the support of state Senate President Steve Sweeney.
In announcing the “indefinite” cancelation of indoor dining, Murphy cited spikes in COVID-19 cases in other states driven partly by the return to indoor dining.
“We do not believe it is prudent at this time to push forward with what is, in effect, a sedentary indoor activity, especially when we know that this virus moves differently indoors than out, making it even more deadly,” Murphy said at his June 29 coronavirus briefing.
The governor also said he took the measure because certain establishments in New Jersey were not practicing social distancing.
“We are also moved to take this step because of what we have seen in some establishments across the state of late,” Murphy said. “We have all seen the scenes, overcrowding, a complete disregard for social distancing, very few, if any, face coverings.”
While Bramnick does not dispute the science, he is concerned about the governor’s assertion that certain establishments are to blame.
“This is a very serious health crises,” he said. “My concern is about how the governor framed it. He framed it as some of these outliers created the situation. If that was the thought process, that is unfair.”
In Jackson, just a 20 minute drive from the Jersey Shore, the owners of The Edge Restaurant & Bar hired back their staff, purchased food and restocked their bar in anticipation of being open for the for the July Fourth weekend, said Louise Cornick, who with her husband, Phil, opened the restaurant six months before the state shut restaurants down due to COVID-19.
While the restaurant is operating with outdoor dining, being able to use 25% of their 8,000 square feet of indoor space would have been a significant boost to the business.
“It was a slap in the face to the industry,” Cornick said. “Yet again we had our chain yanked by the governor. We see all these other businesses being able to reopen and for some reason the restaurant industry is being held back.”
Cornick noted that monies from the federal paycheck protection program, which her business received, can only be used for certain purposes and so she would be grateful should the proposed legislation be approved.
“I will certainly be keeping my eye out for that bill,” Cornick said.
Email Matt Kadosh at email@example.com | Twitter: @MattKadosh
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