As Georgians get vaccinated against COVID-19, restaurants continue to struggle to stay in business

ATLANTA — As Georgia nears one year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, many local restaurants continue to struggle to survive.

Nearly 4 out of 10 restaurant operators in the state say it’s unlikely their restaurant will be in business six months from now if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government, according to the Georgia Restaurant Association.

But despite the grim outlook, Channel 2′s Michael Seiden has found some metro Atlanta establishments that are still finding ways to survive and thrive.

Those restaurant owners include Neal and Samir Idani. The brothers told Seiden that they were ecstatic when President Joe Biden reached out to them to talk about how business has been for their restaurant, NaanStop.

The brothers used the phone call as an opportunity to express their concerns about the pandemic’s impact on their small business.

“So how are you guys doing? it’s been pretty rough, hasn’t it lately?” Biden asked the men.

“Our business has been down 75% almost overnight,” they told Biden.

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Unfortunately, their story has become all too common.

In the last year, the pandemic has forced the closure of more 110,000 restaurants nationwide, including numerous metro Atlanta establishments.

“Restaurants are sharing with us that the weekend business is definitely been improving,” said Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association. “What we’re really missing is the regular business traffic, Monday through Friday.”

The National Restaurant Association predicted a record year in 2020 forecasting $899 billion in sales, but the actual total was just $659 billion.

Back here at home, the GRA conducted a survey of 6,000 local restaurants.

Nearly 7 out of 10 operators say their restaurant’s profit margin is lower than it was pre-pandemic and almost 40 percent of operators say it’s unlikely their restaurant will be in business six months from now if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government.

“Back on March 17, we laid off almost 300,000 workers in Georgia from the food service industry. We still believe that there are roughly 100,000 workers still out of work,” Bremer said.

Fred Castellucci is the owner and CEO of Castellucci Hospitality Group, which operates several Atlanta restaurants, including the Iberian Pig and Cooks and Soldiers.

“You know, the struggle is real,” he told Seiden.

Castellucci said as soon as the pandemic hit and dining rooms closed, he and his staff made the quick pivot to delivery.

“We built e-commerce sites overnight, essentially, for all of our businesses, and then we also employ a lot of our staff as delivery drivers and things that they weren’t typically used to doing,” Castellucci said.

He told Seiden that he remains optimistic, but believes the vaccine is key to restoring consumer confidence.

“The more people that get vaccinated, the more comfortable they feel going out and the faster a business is going to get back to normal,” Castellucci said.

“We have a physical brick and mortar tea house that’s located on East Atlanta Beltline in Atlanta,” said Brandi and Jermail Shelton, owners of Just Add Honey Tea Company.

When city leaders placed restrictions on indoor dinning, the Sheltons told Seiden started looking for new ways to reach their loyal customer base.

“One of the biggest things that I think we did that was pretty successful. We were very intentional about moving a lot of our products online,” they said. Just Add Honey Tea Company overcame the odds against them in 2020.

Now the Sheltons are looking to build on their momentum.