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Can the stimulus package save our St. Louis area restaurants?

We asked the same guy restaurant owners are talking to about it.

ST. LOUIS — Restaurateurs are usually risk takers by nature. But to make sure they don't bite off more than they can chew with this federal stimulus bill, many of them have relied on Peter Boumgarden.

The Washington University in St. Louis professor has helped a group of restaurant owners across Missouri navigate policy and legalese. It's his professional area of expertise, but he's doing it for free out of a love for St. Louis' restaurant scene.

Last week, he facilitated a call between about a dozen restaurateurs and staffers for Senator Josh Hawley. This week, he’s helping them determine what to do about the CARES Act.

“We've gotten further clarity around the support people will get and will give them some clarity on what they should do in regard to their own operations,” he said.

Essentially, he said owners have two choices on what to do.

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They could let employees go to collect unemployment and consider getting a small business loan. While employment assistance is bolstered right now, it’s a hard decision for business owners who already take on a lot of debt as the accepted cost of doing business.

The other option, Boumgarden said, is to apply for what the stimulus package is offering. Essentially, the package would provide money for their rent or mortgage, plus full staff payroll for the next two months, even if the restaurant closes during this time. But in this case, the restaurants would be required to put that same staff back to work in a fully functioning restaurant again by June 1 and for two months after that.

“The good news is if you believe everything is gonna be back to normal in eight weeks — people are going out to eat again — you could essentially get full coverage for these next two months and go back to full operations at that point," he explained.

That doesn’t make it a simple decision, though.

“One of the things that they've wrestled with is, are people going to be going out to eat in the same way? Are they going to feel comfortable in an environment that's post COVID?” he said.

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Boumgarden said many restaurants will have to rethink how they do business even in the future, once we’re beyond this pandemic.

“I don't think that there's necessarily a right or wrong decision but these restaurants need to think about their risk tolerance and how they think about their employees as well as their customers,” he said. “I would encourage these restaurant entrepreneurs to do is to be really caring in your communication with your employees. There’s a lot of uncertainty and the right choice for one restaurant might not be the right choice for another.”

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