Already struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant industry will be particularly hard hit by the latest restrictions Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Sunday. For Edmonds restaurant owner Shubert Ho — who along with partner Andrew Leckie operates four restaurants in the city plus a catering company — Inslee’s ban on indoor restaurant dining means returning to the take-out model his restaurants focused on early in the pandemic.
“It’s obviously a little bit of a shock but not as much as before, as we’ve been through the motions already,” Ho said.
Before the pandemic, the Feed Me Hospitality Group operated by Ho and Leckie had over 200 employees, a number that was reduced to 10 when the governor’s Phase 1 take-out only restrictions were imposed in early March.
Unfortunately, Ho said, people will again lose their jobs as in-house dining is eliminated starting this Wednesday. “It’s going to suck for a bit,” he said. “We have to lay off a substantial amount of people.”
Yet, he stressed that he and Leckie, who own MarKet, Salt and Iron, SanKai Sushi and Bar Dojo, plus Shooby Doo Catering, “have built our business on flexibility.” For example, when the pandemic hit, their restaurants began preparing meals for the Edmonds Senior Center home deliveries, and also helped prepare grab-and-go meals through the Foundation for Edmonds School District’s Nourishing Network.
When the City of Edmonds offered restaurants the ability to expand to sidewalk, curbside and parking lot dining during the summer, Ho and Leckie were among several restaurateurs that took advantage, buying umbrellas, stands and partitions so they could add extra tables outdoors. The city is now working on code changes to allow for longer-term outdoor dining arrangements, although the colder weather has made that less attractive for some customers. (Under the latest restrictions, outdoor dining is allowed with five or fewer customers per table.)
With the indoor dining ban, Ho said that his restaurant menus will be modified — as they were earlier in the pandemic — to include the takeout comfort foods that customers want.
“We’ve always kept the positive attitude vibe and made the best out of the situation,” Ho said.
In that spirit, Ho said that Feed Me Hospitality is proceeding with the opening of yet another restaurant — Fire & the Feast — a pizza and pasta establishment in the former Epulo Bistro location at 526 Main St.
“We will move forward as planned,” Ho said, adding that while the grand opening had been set for Dec. 1, Fire & the Feast may open for takeout sooner than that.
Ho said that compared to other areas, the restaurant business in Edmonds has been relatively stable, thanks to the built-in residential customer base that goes out to eat.
“We have a lot at stake in the community but the community has always done a lot to support us,” Ho said. “Normally we’d be out of business in another community but in Edmonds, there’s a reason why we are still standing.”
— By Teresa Wippel