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Arizona restaurant leader expects slow industry recovery from pandemic

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

This story is part of KTAR News’ “Pandemic in Arizona: One Year In” special report on 92.3 FM, online and our app.

PHOENIX — The president of the Arizona Restaurant Association said that while the industry is turning around amid falling COVID-19 metrics, it will be a slow return to pre-pandemic revenue.

“If you still owe back rent, you’re going to have to pay that now. If you still have equipment that deteriorated because you were shutdown, whether its keg systems or whatever the like, you’re going to start to have some capital expenditures as well,” Steve Chucri told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad on Friday. “I believe because of those factors, we might be a little slow coming out of this.

“By third quarter, fourth quarter this year, I’m very optimistic that because of demand that we will hopefully see back to 2019 numbers by that time frame.”

Arizona lost around 1,200 restaurants over the past year, Chucri said, and close to $2.75 billion in restaurant sales.

Nationally, the restaurant industry lost $275 billion in revenue after it was estimated to bring in a profit of almost a trillion dollars before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“It was a very challenging time, probably my worst time in my 19-year history at the association,” Chucri said. “The good news is that’s behind us. We’re looking to the future and we’re doing far better today than we were doing last time we spoke.”

Arizona restaurants are currently allowed to operate at full capacity while following mitigation efforts such as masks and social distancing, per an executive order issued by Gov. Doug Ducey on March 5.

Chucri said around 80-85% of the restaurant workforce has been brought back, though some restaurants around Arizona are operating with less staff as many people chose to pursue other opportunities or moved out of state.

The biggest aid amid the pandemic was the ability to expand restaurants outdoors to provide more space for social distancing, and Chucri said he hopes to continue to grow the outdoor dining experience while working within the governor’s guidelines.

“The expansion of patios and going into parking lots has really saved us the past few months and really helped us try to salvage sales that we were having to lose on a daily basis in our restaurants. … We’re hopeful that we’ll see better days ahead with having COVID completely behind us and opening up our restaurants to pre-COVID terms.”

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