Small Change

Should eateries with the least money, least space, and least command of the English language get a little more help? One owner thinks so.

Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Huge sculpture of Christ with his arms outstretched.
Even Christ the Redeemer isn't getting any help these days. / ostill ©

After Cafe Brazil’s Tony Zarlenga penned a heartfelt op-ed for us last month, we followed up with the Denver operator about what he thinks federal, state, and local governments should be doing to help out businesses they’re now heavily regulating, as well as whether whether the smallest of the small should get a little extra love.

DiningOut: What action should the government be taking for small businesses? 

Tony Zarlenga: [The] federal government should forgive all the PPP loans to those businesses that distributed the funds in accordance with the final guidelines with no further complications or red tape. A second round of loans should automatically be distributed to those who legitimately received the first as quickly as possible. They can put that funding to good use.

As well, I would like to see some form of consumer and business credit rating protection enacted. During and in the aftermath of this pandemic, people’s lives are being turned upside down in more ways than one. Many are being downgraded economically due to illness, job loss, and reduced business, leaving them in an abyss they are going to have difficulty coming out of.  

At the state and city level, I would like to see a temporary elimination or reduction in sales tax, property tax, and perhaps annual licensing fees. A collaboration and funding for businesses from city and state utility companies could be explored and would be a great help.  

DO: Do you think restaurants should be treated differently based on their space and financial resources? 

TZ: I absolutely believe that restaurants should be given consideration based on their space and financial resources. Those that cannot find solutions because of space, ability, or finances should not necessarily be allowed to perish in this environment. Since their operations are being restricted and mandated by the authorities outside of the normal conduct of business, maybe there should be more comprehensible subsidies communicated and available to them.  

How does an immigrant mom-and-pop restaurant with the best recados this side of Oaxaca navigate through all the red tape and steps necessary to take advantage of any assistance programs? Most of us are food service workers. We do food. We are not lawyers, accountants, or accredited business majors. I am sure more than one of your favorite restaurants is manned by a family or someone whose command of the English language is limited. [ED: Confirmed!]

[The 5 Star certification program] is just one more weight put on the shoulders of conscientious restaurants and operators that have already followed all the mandated sanitation and distancing requirements and demonstrated good faith. How far will it go? 

DO: Do you feel the existing requirements for outdoor seating are being fairly or consistently enforced? 

TZ: The protocols for dining should be consistent throughout the state. Why are the mountains allowed to have 25 percent dine-in capacity, when during the current shutdown other townships are not? Everyone is for protecting the public health, but mandates do not seem to be fairly or consistently enforced. 

I have absolutely nothing against any restaurant or operator that possesses the ability, creativity, and strength to find outdoor patio or enclosed outdoor seating solutions. They are survivors. And we are all trying to survive. I do believe, perhaps, they should not be put in this position in the first place.  

DO: What do you think about the 5 Star Certification Program? Will you apply for it?

TZ: I applaud any effort that moves in the direction of letting restaurants reopen, but then again, I feel this is just one more weight put on the shoulders of conscientious restaurants and operators that have already followed all the mandated sanitation and distancing requirements and demonstrated good faith. How far will it go? 

DO: Any final thoughts?

TZ: There’s much to consider and I don’t have the answers.

Being a lifelong restaurant person and surrounded by restaurant people since infancy, my love of hospitality, service, and what we do is an extension of every family and friend gathering and celebration [I’ve] ever experienced. It’s a result of every great restaurant, chef, cook, maître d’, dining room captain, waiter, bartender, dishwasher, and owner I have ever worked with. Like so many, I am in love with the energy, romance, inspiration, and culture restaurants and restaurant people carry in their hearts. It’s an appreciation of the cultivation of good food and drink from beginning to end. Like so many of us stuck in this episode of our lives, I hate to see this die. 

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