Arizona restaurants putting people back to work amid pandemic

Jan 28, 2021, 4:45 AM | Updated: 8:25 am
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)...
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

PHOENIX — Arizona’s restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, but the president of the Arizona Restaurant Association is hopeful things are turning around.

“We laid off 80% of our workforce just a matter of months ago, and now we’re putting those people back to work and we’re succeeding and keeping our doors open,” Steve Chucri told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Chucri said about 1,000 restaurants could not survive the economic downturn caused by the pandemic and had to shut down. But as COVID-19 numbers in Arizona begin to trend downward, he’s optimistic fewer restaurants will have to close.

Key metrics indicate that the massive coronavirus surge in Arizona that started in November is past its peak, but spread remains substantial across the state.

Chucri said it’s “very good news” not just for the restaurant industry to see these numbers starting to go down, but also because it means less lives will be lost. It also means we’re one step closer to “put this horrible pandemic behind us,” he said.

“I even had COVID-19 and it put me out for three weeks — and I consider myself healthy,” Chucri added. “So I know all too well the effects of this horrible pandemic.”

The Safest Outside Restaurant Assistance Program that Gov. Doug Ducey announced in December to help restaurants expand outdoor dining has helped many keep their doors open.

The program was established when Ducey signed an executive order that allowed outdoor dining past the usual patio boundaries.

Since its inception, the program has been assigned $4 million. Restaurants can apply for the program and get up to $10,000 to buy things like outdoor furniture and barriers.

“These dollars are really putting restaurants back to work, which is what we very badly needed,” Chucri said, adding that the “supply of dollars for the program has gone quickly” because of the high demand.

“It’s actually been one of the best working programs I’ve witnessed since COVID-19 has hit our industry, and we’re very pleased with how this is going.”

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Arizona restaurants putting people back to work amid pandemic