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When the calendar rolled over from December 2020 to January 2021, it brought with it a cautious optimism that the year ahead might be better for our industry than the last. This month marks the beginning of my year-long tenure as chair of the National Restaurant Association and my 25th year as owner of Oak Hill Tavern and The Company Picnic Co. in Kingstown, Rhode Island. And while I have had the privilege of serving on the board of the association for the past 12 years, 2021 will perhaps be the most consequential for me, for the association, and for our industry.
As an independent restaurant owner, I can say without question the survival of my business depends on the changes I made to my business operations in 2020. Everything has been on the table, from administrative changes to streamlining delivery and from takeout options to working with suppliers to stay flexible on delivery dates and quantity estimates. Our ability to weather this storm is due in large part to the coordinated effort of the entire industry — from suppliers to operators, independents to chains. And like so many of my colleagues in restaurants of every type and size, without the most recent stimulus bill, our ability to make it through the winter would be greatly diminished.
Photo: Brian Casey.
In a time when Congress broke the record for passing the fewest number of bills in a calendar year, this bill is a win for restaurants.
The National Restaurant Association shares President-elect Joe Biden’s characterization that this stimulus bill is a “down payment” on future relief efforts. Most importantly, the expanded loan limits in the most recent stimulus allow for the renewed Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, to provide short-term relief, so critically important to small businesses like mine. It also gives the association’s advocacy team more time to push for an industry-specific recovery fund.
Acknowledging that restaurants have been hardest hit, the legislation reflects our more than 800,000 direct, grassroots appeals to Congress to make the PPP work for restaurants by allowing restaurants to take a larger loan amount than other industries (3.5x monthly payroll), reducing the loss threshold to 25%, and allowing greater flexibility in how the loans can be spent, including expenditures related to PPE and perishable inventory — all measures to deliver immediate relief to restaurants. At the Oak Hill Tavern, our PPP meant we could keep our employees on the payroll and safely continue serving our customers.
Additionally, the business expenses restaurants have paid for with a PPP loan will be 100% tax deductible and retroactive. For independent restaurant owners like me, this means those of us who took a first round PPP loan or who will need a second-round loan will not need to worry about an unexpected tax bill for expenses that have always been deductible.
When you add up all the pieces of the bill that benefit restaurants, a framework emerges that will help sustain the industry while we continue to advocate for the Senate version of the RESTAURANTS Act that provides relief for every restaurant business model — from regional chains, to small franchise owners, to beloved independents.
As we confront the challenges of the year ahead, I remain confident in our ability to move forward while working together as one. This industry has always depended on flexible people with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. These attributes have gotten us through challenging times before and will continue to do so now and in the future.
Brian Casey in January began his year-long tenure as chair of the National Restaurant Association. He is the president/owner of the Oak Hill Tavern and the Company Picnic Company, both based in North Kingstown, R.I. He is also a two-term past chairman of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association.