4 months ago

Alabama restaurants struggling to stay open behind closed doors

Soon after establishing the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in Washington, D.C., stopped accepting applications. More than 60,000 people had applied for the one-time aid of $500.

The Alabama Restaurant & Hospitality Association (ARHA) offered a similar $300 grant to workers who have lost their jobs, but closed applications “due to overwhelming response.”

Likewise, the James Beard Foundation’s Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund quickly handed out $15,000 grants in 12 national regions to 36 small, independent restaurants, before halting the application process intended to keep eateries from closing.

“We recognize the tremendous need from independent restaurants across the country and will continue to work to support you however we best can,” the Beard Foundation website announced.

The 101-year-old NRA, which represents half of the 1 million American restaurants, said prior to coronavirus epidemic quarantines that restaurants, bars and independent food and beverage operations were generating more than $1 trillion annually in the U.S., employing more than 15% of the national workforce. Those businesses pump as much as 60% of revenues back into their communities.

The U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index estimates that as many as 9 million restaurant jobs are at risk of at least short-term loss. When bars are added, the industry could lose more than 1 million more jobs.

Some Alabama restaurants are already out of business. National chains have temporarily closed select restaurants, like Red Lobster in Vestavia Hills, rather than offer takeout or curb service.

“As the COVID-19 crisis continues, we made the incredibly difficult decision to temporarily close some of our restaurants,” said Kim Lopdrup, CEO of the 600 Red Lobster restaurants in the U.S. and Canada. “We understand the impact this situation has on our guests as well as our employees’ ability to work and our ability to be a great employer. These decisions have not been taken lightly and are extremely painful, but they are necessary to ensure we survive this crisis and are around to re-open our doors once it passes.”

Well-known Alabama chains, like Wintzell’s, with seven restaurants statewide, have shut down for the duration of the quarantine. Wintzell’s President Bob Omainsky of Mobile is chairman of the ARHA board, which includes many owners of facilities facing financial difficulties.

While sales are down substantially at almost every restaurant in Alabama, many small independent businesses are surviving. Smokin’ S BBQ in Wetumpka has seen average weekly sales drop by 20% but owner Tom Haynes said he’s not had to lay off any of his six employees.

“We have kept them all and, to be quite honest, we could use another person, as takeout and curbside service is more labor-intensive and, at times, we’re stretched thin,” he said.

Longtime customers are continuing to either pick up or order meals delivered from the tiny barbecue joint that has been open more than 30 years. One customer asked Haynes to deliver meals to first responders, setting a $1,000 limit before extending the donation amount so that Smokin’ S could feed local hospital employees.

“We are overwhelmed with the generosity of folks like this,” Haynes said. “In addition, we are getting orders from businesses who are feeding their employees, which we haven’t had before the crisis, and we think they are doing it just to help support local businesses.”

Roebuck Landing Grill & Grocery just outside Eutaw had a thriving business prior to closing its doors to the public four weeks ago. Owner Melanie Moss said she continues to keep similar hours while maintaining their full menu, and selling live bait, groceries and other goods.

“We are continuing to pay our staff at this time,” Moss said. “We are a small hole-in-the-wall with a big fan base. We are missing our regulars and they are missing us.”

Coaches Corner in Wetumpka had 38 employees prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Owner Heather Norton said the staff is down to 29 because nine workers chose to stay home until the threat has passed. Business has decreased by two-thirds over the past month.

“Thankfully we have not had to lay off any of our staff,” she said. “We’ve just transitioned them into other roles for now.”

The “great group of regulars” at Coaches Corner took it hard at first when they were unable to keep meeting friends at the restaurant on the banks of the Coosa River, Norton said, but they are adapting to the current way of life. Longtime customers are buying meals through to-go orders. Others are supporting the restaurant on social media, commenting on Norton’s daily posts.

“We are blessed to be in such an amazing community,” Norton said. “With their help, we will make it through this and come out stronger on the other side.”

Southern Grounds Coffee Shoppe in Thomasville is not as busy as before and has laid off one worker while owners Bailey and Enrique Aguilar try keep their seven-year business stable. They said loyal customers tell them they miss eating inside the historic 104-year-old Champion House.

Jake’s on Broad in Alexander City is operating with a skeleton crew of two cooks and a couple of waitresses after owner Jake Mixon was forced to let several staff members go because of the coronavirus quarantine. The waitresses now box to-go orders, handle curbside deliveries and take customers’ orders and payments.

“Business is slower and I miss the personal interaction with the customers,” said Mixon, who opened his restaurant 10 years ago. “However, the community response has been phenomenal. The regulars, as well as others, are keeping the local restaurants afloat with their support.”

Mixon was forced to cancel the restaurant’s Thursday Night Charity Bingo, a tradition that raises money for many community needs. He said it will resume when health restrictions are lifted.

“I looked forward to the customers returning, the noise, the laughter, the hustle and bustle again,” Mixon said. “I think we will never again take simple things, like seeing one another, for granted.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Chuck Martin endorses Republican Russell Bedsole in Alabama House District 49

Russell Bedsole’s Republican candidacy has received a boost in the Alabama House District 49 special election.

This seat, covering parts of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties, was vacated by the resignation of State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield), who left the legislature to join the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

Bedsole led the pack in the GOP primary held last week, finishing ahead of second-place Mimi Penhale and third-place Chuck Martin. Since no candidate got a majority, a runoff will be held on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Martin endorsed Bedsole in that runoff via a Facebook post.


Martin led Bibb County in primary votes and finished with a competitive 24.25% overall.

In a release, he expounded on why he is publicly backing Bedsole.

“After thoughtful consideration, I am endorsing Russell Bedsole to represent District 49 in the Alabama House of Representatives,” Martin stated. “Like me, Bedsole has deep roots in District 49. I believe he will be a strong voice for Bibb, Shelby, and Chilton counties, and he will fight for our communities’ conservative Christian values in Montgomery.”

Bedsole, a longtime deputy sheriff in Shelby County and an Alabaster city councilor, has already been endorsed by the likes of Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and the Alabama State Fraternal Order of the Police in the race.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by Chuck Martin,” Bedsole commented. “As a representative of District 49, I will fight for pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, along with funding for developing crucial infrastructure, in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Penhale, the legislative director for Shelby County’s legislative delegation, has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her state government job to run for office. She has been endorsed by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.


Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

7 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.


“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”


Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.


Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

8 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.


“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

RELATED: Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95