Local restaurant worker hard hit by coronavirus

By Ben Slomowitz

Special to The Communitarian

local-restaurant-owner-photo-1
Big Cheese Pizza is still offering take-out. Contact them at 364 Wilmington Pike, Glen Mills, Pa., 610-358-0800. Photo courtesy of Ben Slomowitz

Buying Big Cheese Pizza offered Fiona Campbell a steady source of income in the family-friendly town of Glen Mills, Pa. But when she purchased the pizzeria at its location on Wilmington-West Chester Pike, she “never imagined a pandemic hitting Concord Township in 2020,” Campbell said.

After getting above-average reviews on the Internet in this family-owned pizza shop that uses family recipes to make fresh food daily, Campbell decided to move to a more bustling location along Wilmington-West Chester Pike. The pizza shop creates signature foods, such as heart-shaped pizzas for Valentine’s Day which includes fresh gravy (better known as “red sauce”) as well as homemade fresh cannolis. 

But true to its unlucky connotation, the Ides of March, or March 15th, turned Campbell’s world upside down, when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared that all restaurants must be take-out or delivery only for at least the next 14 days. He will decide, after those 14 days, whether or not restaurants will be allowed to be dine-in again, cutting into Campbell’s business profits dramatically.  

“Business has slacked off because I can’t help anybody,” Campbell said. “I’m not letting anybody in my building,” meaning that she is not permitting patrons to be seated inside her restaurant. She is offering delivery and takeout only.

Campbell is one of many restaurant owners who are suffering during this crisis.

According to the “Coronavirus Information and Resources” information on the website of the National Restaurant Association, which also provides local businesses with advice on how to survive during the COVID-19 outbreak, “the restaurant industry is home to more than 15 million trained and skilled employees in restaurants across the country serving the public every day.” 

Furthermore, a restaurant employee’s average salary is approximately $18,000 a year, based on minimum wage, which is below the federal poverty level, thus making it a struggle to survive in today’s economy, much less during a pandemic when hours are cut drastically.

Fear of spreading the virus has encouraged restaurant workers to improve their hygiene while handling food, much like the rest of the population. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to wash their hands “often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.” 

Although there is a “poor survivability” of coronavirus with shipping of food products since the virus dies during the shipping duration, the CDC advises people to still wear gloves when handling food. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a list of products that are helpful in fighting coronavirus within local restaurants and establishments, including Lysol Brand Direct Multipurpose Cleaner, and deodorizing disinfecting cleaners. Commonly used products such as Clorox Multi-Surface Cleaner plus bleach and disinfectant wipes are not effective in killing the Coronavirus, according to the EPA.

In addition, during this difficult time, experts from the National Restaurant Association say care must be taken to adhere to food freshness standards and to make certain that foods that are out of date are not used and discarded. They also suggest that the industry practices that should be maintained include stock rotation, food labeling, keeping food in airtight containers, controlling refrigeration and freezer temperature controls, and maintaining general cleanliness to prevent contamination, to keep customers safe.

When Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, former president Barack Obama had successfully moved the country out of the 2008 Great Recession and the country was on a financial upswing, as demonstrated by the decrease in unemployment rate. However, not having any former political experience, Trump focused on big business and deregulation.

According to the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF), a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization” focusing on “issues of importance to the business community and the U.S. economy,” Trump ignored concerns for America’s preparedness for dealing with a pandemic.

Meanwhile, small businesses are trying to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, including paying salaries, rent, taxes, and acquiring fresh food for their restaurants. Under normal circumstances, the restaurant industry has to deal with keeping food fresh, keeping employees safe when delivering food to the public, and finding funds to pay rent, taxes, food distributors, and employees.

According to the Louisiana Restaurant Association, “Restaurants are facing a loss of an estimated $225 billion as a result of this pandemic.”

Likewise, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry provided statistics of unemployment in Delaware County within the last decade (2009-2019). The maximum unemployment rate in the county was 8.8% in 2009 during the recession, while the minimum was 3.8% in 2019.

On March 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the COVID-19 Relief Package, which includes relief to small businesses like Big Cheese Pizza. 

Nevertheless, as of today, Campbell says she “lost 2/3 of her business” as a result of the pandemic, which shows no signs of slowing down, experts say.  

In fact, as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States keeps climbing, 

Campbell worries she will have to shut down her business altogether. 

“I don’t have a plan,” Campbell said. “I’m hanging on with my claws out as long as I can.” 

Big Cheese Pizza is still offering take-out. Contact them at 364 Wilmington Pike,  Glen Mills, Pa.,  610-358-0800; thebigcheesefamily@gmail.com.

Contact The Communitarian at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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