Little Italy restauranteur: 'PPP was an 8 week solution to an 18 month problem'

Posted at 10:17 PM, Jul 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 23:11:15-04

BALTIMORE — The owner of a restaurant in Little Italy is calling on Congress to pass a bill that would establish a fund to help struggling restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Restaurants Act”, which was introduced in June, would create a $120 billion independent restaurant revitalization fund.

In March, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was a part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package called the CARES Act. It made $349 billion available to help small business owners stay afloat during the pandemic.

“PPP was an 8 week solution to an 18 month problem,” Vitale said. “And we need to get to the other side; otherwise, we lose 80 percent of the independent restaurants nationwide.”

According to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, 500,000 independent restaurants and 11 million jobs “are on the brink of going away forever” unless the federal government steps in and helps.

On Thursday, Lew Gambino’s, formerly known as Ciao Bella, announced on Facebook it will be closing its doors for good. It was one of the latest restaurant casualties due to COVID-19.

“Closures mean it’s real,” Vitale said. “The great equalizer like death is the closure of a business for the staff, for the families involved, for the guests, so it’s very sad we lose a place that’s been there 29 years.”

That same day, Vitale posted on Facebook a receipt showing his business made only $83 the entire day. He said it was the worst day of business in 22 years.

“I was super shocked yesterday to look at my net sales, but Im still hopeful for the future,” he said. “This is the toughest business climate in a generation. That is no understatement.”

Governor Larry Hogan lifted the ban on indoor dining last month. Cities such as Towson and Baltimore have allowed several areas to close streets to expand outdoor seating.

Vitale said Little Italy plans to close streets soon. He said it will help business some, but not nearly enough, which is why he’s hoping Congress will step up to the plate soon.

“Some restaurants may find that it is [enough],” he said. “If you’re along the waterfront [and] have a really compelling proposition, maybe outdoor dining is enough, but it really falls that each restaurant is very different. The one thing that’s common is that we all need help.”