Omicron could spell doom for many local, independently-owned restaurants. Most restaurants in the U.S. saw a drop in sales during December and in-person dining remains below pre-pandemic levels.
“There have been a lot of outbreaks in the community. People are staying home sick or trying to avoid people who are sick, so we have seen a drop in clientele,” said Guillermo Gonzalez, General Manager of Casa Don Diego in Chula Vista.
Sunday brunch appears busy in Casa Don Diego, but for Gonzalez, it has been a very challenging winter.
“It’s been a roller coaster. It’s definitely been trying times for all the restaurants. I can’t imagine anyone not having second thoughts about being an owner of a restaurant,” said Gonzalez.
The drop in business is a trend seen nationwide. The Independent Restaurant Coalition conducted surveys and found Nearly 60% of restaurants reported sales dropped by more than half during the December Omicron surge.
In addition to the drop in sales, restaurants are also dealing with rising costs.
Gonzalez has raised wages to attract workers. He's also paying dramatically higher food costs.
“We’re talking about double the cost on food and unfortunately, we can’t, who would be able to double the price on their menu. We are the ones holding the bag here,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez has taken advantage of government relief programs like PPP loans but he says he hasn't received any aide in nearly a year. Gonzalez worries this latest Covid wave will have a devastating effect on locally owned restaurants.
“I think we’re going to be left with nothing but major chains. The only ones who are going to be able to finance during this crisis,” said Gonzalez.
Thousands of restaurants have closed in the U.S. during the pandemic. The Independent Restaurant Coalition has been pressuring the White house and Congress to offer more relief to restaurants. The trade group surveyed restaurants that didn't get any federal assistance and found nearly half are at risk of eviction.