‘It’s not sustainable’: Restaurant owner calls for consistent regulations, more funding

Providence

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Things have been a lot quieter at the Black Duck Tavern in East Providence during the state’s two-week pause.

Capacity at all Rhode Island restaurants has been capped at 33%, and only one household can dine at a single table.

David Fiorillo, the Black Duck’s owner, is worried about what will happen if Governor Gina Raimondo chooses to extend the pause past Dec. 13.

“That’s a major blow,” he said. “I see what our numbers are like these first two weeks… and I don’t know how anybody can sustain it. It’s not sustainable.”

Fiorillo has had to lay off two thirds of his staff, and worries about the future, particularly when he sees headlines about other restaurants closing or filing for bankruptcy.

“It just makes me think, ‘When’s it going to be for us?’ We can only do this for so long,” he said. “We’re all asking for help, but it seems like we’re not receiving any.”

Brian Hodge, a spokesperson for Rhode Island Commerce, said the state has funded approximately $37.2 million in grants to 2,875 small businesses; roughly $12.8 million in grant money remains.

“Grants have been awarded to businesses in all 39 cities and towns, including to more than 700 restaurants and more than 300 retailers,” Hodge said in a email to 12 News. “Additionally, there are more than 1,000 active applications currently being processed, so the amount that’s committed is expected to increase significantly.”

“This does not include the millions of dollars recently announced in Business Adaptation awards, HArT awards, Take It Outside grants, and other initiatives,” Hodge added.

Fiorillo said it’s not enough. Food industry tech entrepreneur Angus Davis, who founded Upserve, agrees.

“Congress sent $32 billion to bail out the airline industry last year,” Davis told 12 News. “The airlines employed fewer than half a million people. Restaurants employed 30 times as many people. By that math we should be sending $1 trillion to restaurants to keep them alive for a few months.”

He added, “if you’re going to shut down the restaurant, pay the darn bill.”

Fiorillo said more financial assistance is key, but he is also calling for consistency in state regulations.

“It seems like there’s always something that we didn’t know we had to do,” he said. “Our industry is being treated differently then the big box store industry. The guidelines that we have to adhere to seem like they’re not being held at the big box stores.”

Hodge explained big box retailers had stricter capacity restrictions implemented during the pause, and can currently only have one customer per 150-square-feet inside their stores.

“Additionally, big box retailers were required to create a post-Thanksgiving plan to keep customers safe during the holiday shopping season,” he said. “Small retailers are operating under the previous reopening rules.”

Hodge said Commerce RI is open to businesses’ feedback if they have concerns or observations about inspections.

“We encourage Rhode Islanders to support our state’s small businesses whenever they can,” he said. “To enable shopping at our small businesses, we have helped expand and promote the Shop Local Rhode Island website, which features thousands of local shops and services.”

Still, Fiorillo feels like small businesses are being lost in the shuffle.

“It just seems like it’s always talk about ‘corona, corona, corona,'” he said. “But there’s a lot of good going on in the state. There’s a lot of great restaurants that can provide great, safe environments for you to eat in.”

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