In a few short weeks, the fear of spreading the novel coronavirus has turned the lives of people around the world upside down.
As citizens find themselves homebound, under the instruction of local, state and federal governments, US business owners and their employees have become the biggest losers in this pandemic, outside of the families who have lost loved ones who have succumbed to the virus.
Across Metro Atlanta, the impact of the virus and the executive orders put in place to flatten the curve is proving to have a sobering effect on business owners of all types, but especially those in the restaurant industry.
In a recent YouTube video, Atlanta businesswoman and Bravo reality star Kandi Burruss-Tucker disclosed some of the effects COVID-19 has had on her businesses.
“We went from killing it one week to $200 the next week,” Burruss-Tucker said. “When you have a sitdown restaurant, those restaurants are impacted because nobody can come in.”
Burruss-Tucker, who found fame as the lead singer of 90s R&B quartet Xscape, owns Old Lady Gang (OLG), a southern-cuisine restaurant with two locations in Metro Atlanta, one on Peter Street and the other on Camp Creek Parkway.
Additionally, OLG has a location at State Farm Arena, which was immediately closed after the NBA’s decision to suspend the season.
“We have 80-something employees at each location, between our two physical locations,” Burruss-Tucker said. “That’s a lot of people that we employ. And the service industry to me has been hit the hardest.”
Fellow reality star Dennis McKinley, the owner of The Original Hot Dog Factory and CRU Hookah Lounge, agreed with Burruss-Tucker, “Dine-in business is done, so the business is, of course, overall down. However, morale is not as we are seeing an unbelievable surge in carryout and delivery service business, which we expect to continue.”
Burruss-Tucker, as with all business owners, is worried about still having to pay bills and pay employees when the cash isn’t rolling in.
“We weren’t really on UberEats and Grubhub, and all of those things before, but now we’re signed up. We’re still sitting, not making any money, but bills are still due. And payroll is hitting for two locations.”
Another popular restaurateur, Pinky Cole, owner of Slutty Vegan had a different experience. Though Cole also shut down her restaurants, her decision was a choice that she took very seriously.
“As a risk management tactic, we closed our operations entirely,” Cole said. “Initially, we allowed takeout and delivery, but our restaurant was still having a huge turnout. So we had to do the right thing and close the location altogether. Social responsibility is a part of Slutty Vegan’s DNA and foundation.”
Cole also said that her business is still making money from people purchasing Slutty Vegan merchandise and products, such as vegan bacon, allowing her to continue paying employees through this difficult time.
And with the restaurant industry in limbo, Cole invested her time in her non-profit, the Pinky Cole Foundation, using the notoriety of Slutty Vegan as a platform to do good.
“Through the Pinky Cole Foundation, we’ve paid rent for other small businesses in Atlanta, paid for college students to return home for COVID-19, provided free food to hospital workers and assisted living families, and have launched an Entrepreneurs Anonymous Digital initiative to help businesses hit hard by this pandemic,” Cole said.
Outside of the restaurant industry, gyms and fitness facilities were some of the first businesses to close their doors before the executive orders were issued.
Charles Sharper, the owner of Healthy Youth USA, is not only worried about his business and employees but also the kids his facility serves.
“We are in a crisis right as it relates to our staff, because we, like all other organizations and companies, were paralyzed, about three weeks ago, in a blink of an eye,” Sharper said. “Schools were shut down, companies were shut down and there was no opportunity for our parents for our service.”
After shuttering his facility Sharper decided to continue providing fitness services for free online.
“We’ve done some things virtually. We like to celebrate the birthdays of kids in our program,” he explained. “We’ve done virtual parties to get them active, to get them moving. We’ve done virtual consults to create fitness programs for some of the parents. We’ve done P.E. classes online and that’s totally free.”
“Unfortunately, our staff has been impacted greatly. None of our staff have been able to work and so consequently we’ve had to layoff staff,” he continued. “We’re working with the government and trying to subsidize payment for the next two months. We’re on the edge of our seat like everybody else.”
When Asson Michel, owner of Cycle Elan, closed the doors of his facility, he decided to rent out his cycling bikes to members, and personally delivered the equipment to each client. Like Sharper, he also conducts online fitness classes.
Yisrael Wright, owner of The Yizclusive Experience Men’s Grooming Spa in Grant Park closed his doors three weeks ago after Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued her executive order for all non-essential businesses to close after not even being open a full month.
He’s now looking into forgivable loans from the Small Business Administration and banks to keep him going.
“It’s been a bunch of adjusting,” Wright said. “I’m deciding who to keep on staff and who to let go, and what’s most beneficial for the business as far as SBA Loans.”
Wright said that his new normal is filling out paperwork for loans and working on the administrative part of his business.
Many other business owners like Wright are hoping the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, will offer answers to their mounting problems. The Act allocates $349 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the current circumstances they are encountering.
The CARES Act provides funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, modifies the existing Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and provides immediate loan payment relief for current SBA 7(a) borrowers.
Also, some private banks like Truist — formerly BB&T and SunTrust — are accepting digital applications for the CARES ACT for existing business clients.
In the meantime, Wright also decided to cease all barbering activity, in addition to keeping his doors closed, for fear of contracting the virus, based on his close relationships with others who have contracted it or died.
“There are too many people that I know who are directly affected by it, who have either passed away from it or have it,” Wright said. “One of my mentors in the film industry, a big department head, died (from COVID-19) yesterday (Wednesday, April 8) and one of my friends who plays overseas basketball, he got (COVID-19) at the beginning of March.”