Sen. Warner: ‘I’m committed to getting to yes’ on restaurant aid

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner told around two dozen independent restaurant owners and larger restaurant groups that he believes a compromise bill will provide some financial relief to restaurants struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some of these independent restaurants are hanging on by their fingertips,” said the Virginia Democrat after listening to restaurateurs’ concerns at Hen Quarter, on King Street, in Old Town Alexandria.

“They want a deal, and so do I,” Warner said. “We desperately need to get something done — if we wait until after the election, another four- or five-week gap would be a disaster.”

Despite his differences with President Donald Trump, Warner said he has a good working relationship and is in touch with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mark Warner Hen Quarter
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., met with two dozen restaurateurs at Hen Quarter, in Old Town Alexandria, to discuss ways to help businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

“I’m committed to getting to yes,” Warner said. “We need to get something done.”

Michelle Poteaux, owner of Restaurant Bastille, in Alexandria, said the earlier Paycheck Protection Plan wasn’t helpful for her because she couldn’t use it to pay operating costs.

“How can staff come back to work if there’s no business?” Poteaux asked. “I can’t continue to pay them because I can’t continue to sustain the business.”

Warner applauded the ingenuity of restaurant owners in pivoting during the summer to provide takeout and outdoor dining. However, with winter coming, Warner said business will likely suffer again.

“None of them are at capacity,” Warner said, “and the weather is turning.”

Though Warner’s $120 million bill has just passed in committee, he told the owners frankly that the final “top line” will likely be substantially less.

In empathizing with the plight of struggling restaurant owners, Warner said other industries have had to completely shut down during the coronavirus. “If you’re in the entertainment venue space, or a theater company, you’ve got zero revenues,” Warner said.

Most of the restaurants at the meeting were not mom-and-pops — Jon McDonnell, chief operating officer of the Clydes Restaurant Group, asked why larger groups that employed a lot of restaurant workers should be denied benefits afforded to independent restaurants.

Warner said large chains have other sorts of relief available.

Some restaurant owners told Warner if they didn’t get an infusion of money, many wouldn’t last through the winter.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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