Local restaurants ask for more federal help to keep doors open

The Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association reports that 81% of restaurants have seen a drop in indoor dining due to the omicron variant of COVID-19.

INDIANAPOLIS — The lunch crowd at the Half Liter BBQ & Beer Hall on Thursday wasn’t exactly a crowd. This is the current problem of the pandemic.

“Family restaurants, multi-generational, family or fine dining, are the restaurants that haven’t made it,” Patrick Tamm, president and CEO of the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association, said at a press conference at the restaurant and microbrewery.

INRLA reports that 81% of restaurants have seen a drop in indoor dining due to the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Sahm’s Hospitality Group operates 13 restaurants and caterers, including Half Liter BBQ & Beer Hall. The company applied for $3.3 million from the Federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund, but the $28.6 billion fund ran out.

The US Small Business Administration says 1,192 Indiana businesses have received grants totaling $242,055,766 from the RRF.

Restaurant owners are asking Congress to replenish the fund with up to an additional $60 billion.

“Our restaurant industry has winners and losers,” said Ed Sahm, president and CEO of Sahm’s Hospitality Group. “The winners are clear. It’s the drive-thru. It’s the national chains. It’s the fast-food places. They’re booming. Obviously our side of the industry, the full-service neighborhood place, mom-and-pop – we speak for the remaining 57% of restaurants. We’re not speaking for ourselves here.

Half of the Half Liter BBQ & Beer Hall building is a large private event space. Many of these restoration events are simply not happening during the pandemic. Events are always canceled or just never scheduled.

“We try not to cut back,” said Eddie Sahm, chief operating officer of Sahm’s Hospitality Group. “We try not to make drastic changes. We try not to let people go. We try to pay people fair wages. We act responsibly, doing it again and again. But if we don’t don’t get the funds we were told we were going to get, we have to make changes.

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Giorgio’s Pizza just off Monument Circle received $112,904 from the RRF.

“Absolutely, they were vital,” said owner George Stergiopoulus. “We wouldn’t have survived it.”

He is still waiting for workers to return to downtown office buildings.

“I need to see butts in the seats,” Stergiopoulos said. “It’s part of what we do. I’ve done this all my life. I’m not against DoorDash. I’m not against Grubhub and delivery services. We also deliver. But we need to see people indoors, especially during lunchtime, in a place like this.

Stergiopoulos also owns the Greek Islands restaurant, which received $40,397.29 in RRF funding.

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“It’s definitely a survival game here,” Stergiopoulos said. “We are resilient. It’s a good thing. But yes, there must be some availability to get help.”

An INRLA survey reports that business is worse now than just three months ago in 69% of restaurants. Fifty-seven percent of restaurants that applied for grants but did not receive the money do not expect to be in business beyond the pandemic without the financial assistance.

Gladys T. Hensley