Russell Brent was forced to close his Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground shortly after the pandemic started
Russell Brent knows all too well the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the restaurant industry. Earlier this spring, Brent was forced to close his Battle Ground restaurant, the Mill Creek Pub, due to restrictions placed on the restaurant industry by Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive orders.
On Friday, Brent shared his own experiences as well as the current state of regional restaurants in a Zoom meeting with members of the Vancouver Sunrise Rotary Club. Brent issued a dim view of the immediate future for restaurants.
“In the next two weeks as soon as the weather changes, outdoor dining is going to go away,’’ Brent pointed out. “We are going to see restaurant failures galore; bankruptcies all over the place.”
In the aftermath following the March 16 lockdown announced by Gov. Inslee, area restaurant and bar owners worked with elected leaders. They lobbied various government agencies to allow outdoor, streetside dining and liquor “to go” in addition to take-out service. They also created “parklets,” using streetside parking spaces where outdoor tables were placed for patrons to be seated and served.
The governor created a four-phased set of rules for businesses to reopen. Included was the six-foot rule for indoor dining to insure safety for both employees and restaurant and bar patrons.
“The governor has said that he’s not going to change the six-foot rule on inside dining until there is a vaccine,” said Brent. “That means we’re into perpetuity, and he doesn’t appear to be willing to change.”
According to Brent, “the most significant problem that we have is going to be this six-foot rule.” Restaurants need the busy Friday-to-Sunday traffic, which is often close to 100 percent occupancy.
“How can we increase occupancy and still maintain safety for our guests that are inside the restaurant,” Brent continued.
Brent said that unless more federal funds are approved to aid business owners, many won’t be able to make ends meet.
“None of us are going to survive without the second round of PPP,” Brent said. “The Washington Hospitality Association is getting volunteers calling all of these establishments, and asking them those very questions. ‘Are you open? Are you going to make it? How long do you think you can survive? How many employees have you lost.’’’
Brent said the data is being collected and will be distributed as soon as they get a large enough sample. “We’ve had two volunteers quit because they couldn’t listen to the story of these restaurateurs as they start to ask these questions,” Brent reported. “This is pretty brutal.”
Brent and local restaurant owners are reaching out to try to help owners of smaller restaurants. The Northwest Wine and Food Society created a “Restaurant Reboot” effort, with plans to keep small restaurants and bars open in the midst of current COVID-19 restrictions. They hope to give $2,000 grants to small restaurants in the area, where the money can make a difference in keeping their doors open.