Kentucky restaurateurs, distillers, musicians urge McConnell to support RESTAURANTS Act

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Prominent Kentucky restaurateurs, chefs, distillers, musicians, and industry leaders called on Senator Mitch McConnell to include the RESTAURANTS Act in the upcoming stimulus bill designed to resuscitate the devastated economy.

On the press call, Kentucky chefs Edward Lee and Ouita Michel, joined by Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery’s Preston Van Winkle and Louisville-based band My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan, sounded the alarm regarding McConnell’s recently-proposed HEALS Act, which includes no direct aid for restaurants and bars, an industry uniquely devastated by the pandemic.

The group expressed concern that the Paycheck Protection Program “sequel” in the HEALS Act would not adequately address the long term needs of restaurants and bars, as evidenced by Gov. Andy Beshear’s recent closure of bars and restrictions on indoor dining.

Mitch McConnell

The business owners urged McConnell to include the RESTAURANTS Act, which would establish a $120 billion Independent Restaurant Revitalization Fund geared toward assisting small restaurants and bars impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Last month, the legislation was introduced on a bipartisan basis in both the Senate by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and in the House by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR 3) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA 1). The legislation already boasts over 140 cosponsors in the House and 15 cosponsors in the Senate, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“Kentucky needs our senator to fight for us,” said Preston Van Winkle of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery in Frankfort. “Livelihoods across our state are on the line. Not just restaurant and bar jobs, but also farming jobs, trucking jobs, manufacturing jobs, and, yes, jobs in Kentucky’s renowned distilleries. A dish served in Louisville supports a farm in Hopkinsville.

“A drink poured in Bowling Green supports my distillery in Frankfort. Kentuckians across the state depend on each other to support Kentuckian businesses. And now we’re counting on Senator McConnell to get this right and support our restaurants and bars in Washington.”

According to a recent economic report from Compass Lexecon, the fund would return up to $271 billion in economic benefits nationally, as well as reducing unemployment by 2.4 percent. The legislation would be particularly impactful in Kentucky, where the leisure and hospitality industry has contributed to over 20 percent of all jobs lost since March.

The IRC projects the RESTAURANTS Act would:

· Generate nearly $2 billion in economic benefits for Kentucky.
· Protect 203,000 Kentucky independent restaurant and bar jobs.
· Protect Kentucky’s tourism industry, which stands to benefit $1 billion from the RESTAURANTS Act
· Help ensure Kentucky’s 71,400 small farms stay in business, along with providing $189 million in economic benefits directly to suppliers like distillers, manufacturers, butchers, and others.
· Save Kentucky $413 million in state unemployment benefits and insurance taxes.

“We need Senator McConnell to listen to what the business owners in his state are actually asking for,” said Edward Lee, James Beard Foundation Award-winning Chef and owner of 610 Magnolia and Whiskey Dry in Louisville. “The proposed PPP ‘sequel’ is well-intentioned, but well-intentioned short-term loans won’t pay our bills. The PPP didn’t fix our industry’s problems in April. It definitely won’t serve restaurants and bars entering their sixth month of extremely depressed revenue. If Senator McConnell wants to preserve hundreds and thousands of Kentucky jobs across countless local businesses, he needs to support the RESTAURANTS Act.”

Earlier this month, several major U.S. corporations announced their support for the RESTAURANTS Act. The companies – American Express, The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, Hyatt Hotels, Resy, Sysco, and US Foods – warned Congress that, without restaurants, “every one of our businesses would be impacted and the economic framework of cities and towns across all parts of the United States would be dramatically altered for the worse.” They concluded that “Congress must pass The RESTAURANTS Act of 2020 in the coming weeks.”

More than 215 small businesses that supply restaurants also called for the passage of the RESTAURANTS Act. Among the signees were Kentucky spirits distributor Brown-Forman, one of the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies. According to a recent economic report from Compass Lexecon, restaurants’ and bars’ suppliers employ over 5 million workers across the country.

“Restaurants and bars across Kentucky are running out of time,” said Ouita Michel, owner of Ouita Michel’s Family of Restaurants, which operates several restaurants across Kentucky. “Plain and simple. These business owners and the suppliers who work with them are looking at the empty seats and doing the math. How will they pay their bills if they can’t open their businesses? The current HEALS act doesn’t fully address those concerns. Loans cannot be the only solution to indefinite closure. The $120 billion revitalization fund proposed in the RESTAURANTS Act is the only way we will make it through this crisis.”

“Restaurants and bars are being set up for failure,” said Patrick Hallahan, member of Louisville-based band My Morning Jacket and restaurateur. “As it stands, restaurants and bars are just being told to ‘hang in there,’ with no end in sight and no real help on the horizon. No American business owner has ever been told to do what restaurateurs have had to do during this crisis. I’ve never been asked to play a show without drumsticks. Small businesses shouldn’t be asked to stay closed without any means of real support or the tools they need to do their job.”