The virus had been rumbling on the news for weeks but I’m not sure many of us realized the direct impacts just around the corner, approaching our families, our communities, our loved ones, our companies, and our teams. I got a text from a friend on Mar 11 saying something to the effect of—
‘getting some operators together to talk about coronavirus and strategy. Last minute, but show up at our event space tomorrow if you can.’
And so it began. On Friday of that week a significant amount of Portland independent restaurant, bar and cafe owners came together to talk and problem solve. In the following days everyone moved to working on a shared slack channel to support each other in wading through the slog that was ahead. No one knew what, where, how deep or to what end would be the landscape to come.
As a flurry of conversation began to unfold between this group over the next 24 hrs, the first picture of (what I’ll call round 1) damage began to crystalize… and it was jaw dropping. Even with early science on virus spread — distancing and additional safety protocols had already been established by medical experts as paramount to the safety of our communities and our teams. Flattening the transmission curve, getting to a place where our hospitals were able to keep up with treating / saving those most deeply affected / impacted — this was the goal. The writing was on the wall. Restaurants, bars and cafes could not stay open in their current iteration. Whether or not a government mandate was coming, owners making the responsible (and heartbreaking) decision was going to happen — closure was going to happen.
At this point in time, the first of many realizations materialized — the impact on food and beverage was going to be widespread and destructive. Depending on the business model (restaurant, bar, cafe, etc), operators would have to change their entire format (massively reduce scale) at a minimum, or close entirely in the most extreme cases. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been thinking a lot more about a second realization — the previous week (the week of Mar 9–13) was the last week of food and beverage as we knew it. Things will forever be changed. And the restaurants, bars and cafes that we loved frequenting, that we loved operating… they will no longer exist. Those who make it to the other side, they will birth restaurants, bars and cafes with the same name, and hopefully the same heart and soul — but for the foreseeable future these concepts will look very different.
In that first gathering, when we came together to talk about what to do…it was a bit of an eerie feeling sitting with these thoughts in the midst of others — some of them friends, others unknown. We knew we were all in it together. It was an unspoken, and clear, that the biggest concern in the room was the people and jobs represented by everyone present. We were concerned about our teams… many like family. No one knew how fast the train was coming, especially not our teams. On Monday we would all be waking up to the news of what was invetiable on Friday. Massive layoffs. It was up to us to leave this place and get in touch with our teams as quickly as possible. Prepare them any way we could. Comfort them. Save as many jobs as we could. But keep our communities as safe as we could. The moral dillema was beginning to introduce itself to us all, beginning to familiarize us with the mental negotiations to come. No decision would be easy. Every decision would seem to be in opposition of the ‘other good’ sought. And so it began.