ST. LOUIS — A well-known St. Louis restaurant owner and chef joined the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force for its Monday briefing.
This comes as head of the task force, Dr. Alex Garza, said the St. Louis area is seeing troubling hospital trends when it comes to COVID-19.
Gerard Craft, chef and owner of Niche Food Group, joined Dr. Garza to ask people to wear face masks as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“You know, I feel so ill equipped to be up here next to the hardworking and brave women and men who have been speaking before me, putting themselves on the front line to save people and to the people who have lost loved ones due to this pandemic,” Craft said.
“And I'm so sorry for everyone who's lost somebody in this.”
The James Beard Award-winning chef said he knew the pandemic was not going to be something that was “quick,” but also had no clue that at the end of October, he’d be speaking to the public about these issues. Niche Food Group shut down seven of its restaurants in March and five of them have since reopened. Craft said two of the restaurants will likely remain shut down forever because they’re too small to maintain social distancing. Taste is one of those that would have been celebrating its 11-year anniversary.
Craft said all of the group’s restaurants are only seating at around 25% to 30% capacity – that’s because even though some can operate at 50% - to social distance, you have to keep the tables 6-feet apart.
“Restaurants also make up a huge part of local economies across the country and the world. Unlike many businesses that you see out there, restaurants put most of the money back. Restaurants are a really horrible business model. I'll tell you that right now,” Craft said.
Craft said the area has been really lucky due to the beautiful spring and summer weather, which allowed for outdoor dining.
“Winter is coming, and it never has that felt more real. And I think you're going to see somewhere in the realms of 40% of restaurants going out of business as a result of this,” Craft said.
To help your local restaurants and local economy, here’s what Craft said to do.
He pointed to his face mask, “And it's crazy that this thing right here, this mask. So do you want to help your local restaurants? If you want to help your local businesses? You want the economy to get going again, wear the mask... it’s really not that hard,” he said.
Craft also said there’s hundreds of employees and others throughout the community who go to work everyday, scared.
“They go home at night. Maybe they live with their grandparents or, you know, elderly or they have immunocompromised spouses and they go home and they're scared because every single day they have to battle the general public on something so simple as a mask,” Craft said.
“And I've always bent over backwards to care for people and to make sure everybody has the best meal and experience they possibly have. But if you try to fight that, you need to leave. You're not helping us. You're not helping the community.”
“You're not helping everybody around you. And you're being selfish and lives are being lost because of that.”
Craft called it sad and devastating.
“And of course, I don't want to lose my business, but the real issue is the people. All right. We cannot keep throwing human lives away because we are afraid to put a mask on our face. It seems so silly to even say it out loud. And I never, ever could have imagined that this would have been the biggest problem we faced in this pandemic. So you want to help? You want to help everybody? Yes. You can go out. You can get take out. You can do all those things. But really, if you just wear a mask, we're all going to be in such a better place. It takes work and we all have to put in the work,” Craft said.