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Ethan Stowell: ‘Nobody spared’ as restaurants struggle during outbreak

Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell with one of his own burgers. (MyNorthwest file photo)

Restaurants are adapting to the new rules as best as they can, doing what they can to stay afloat in an industry that’s notorious for slim margins. Ethan Stowell owns a number of restaurants in Seattle, and they’ve been hit really, really hard with this coronavirus crisis.

He joined the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to discuss coronavirus impacts on the Seattle restaurant industry and how he’s adapting.

“This has definitely been a big thing for everything involving hospitality, travel, food, service, beverage service. It’s been pretty devastating. It’s been a tough go. It’s pretty depressing and kind of shocking, with a lot of tears,” he said.

Stowell says he’s seeing economic devastation across the Seattle restaurant scene, with everyone being impacted.

“All restaurants have just been just been clobbered, and it’s not just me, it’s every small guy, every big guy, every medium guy, there’s been nobody spared in this thing. We’ve been around talking to everybody and people understand it. They don’t like it, obviously. But the common thread that’s been going along is that let’s just be nice to each other, that’s what we need right now.”

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No one wants to be in a position where you have to lay people off, but obviously, staffing needs are a little bit different now. What has Stowell done to adapt to these new policies?

“We put the whole company kind of on pause. I mean, we have a few restaurants that are doing just take out, but that’s still limited hours for so many people. Laying a bunch of people off is not what you want to do, but it’s better to lay them off right now instead of just giving them no hours.”

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“Everybody’s kind of shocked at the severity and speed of this thing, and everybody’s just trying to make the best of it and see how they can put themselves in a position to get everybody back to work as soon as possible.”

Stowell owns and operates a number of restaurants in Seattle from How to Cook a Wolf to Red Cow and Tavolata. He’s started a new program called ESR at Home which offers takeout, curbside pickup and/or delivery available from a number of his spots.

“The people are supportive, the people in community know what’s going on, and they want to help out small businesses, they want to support. It’s a very awkward time and people are scared to go out, which I don’t blame them at all,” Stowell said.

“I think the rules and regulations that have been enacted — I’m supportive of them. I’d really like to see this thing get over as quick as possible, so if that requires more, we’re OK with that. We’ve had some really good things come out of this, really supportive landlords in some cases. People are being supportive and we’re just trying to figure it out and get together.”

Stowell says many Seattle restaurants, especially the smaller ones, are finding themselves in positions they never imagined.

“I’ve definitely heard a lot of people think about throwing in the towel … There’s an overall sense of fear. There’s people having to force themselves into banking conversations they’re not used to having, like how do I defer my payments, what are the regulations on loans during crises, people having to navigate insurance claims that they never thought they’d have to worry about.”

“I think there will be some people that just won’t be able to navigate these waters, people that were a little bit on the edge and running a little lean going into this, so that’s going to hurt them a lot. I think the rest of the industry will come out of this OK, but I think it could be a lot smaller.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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