Between 10%-12% of the 10,000 restaurants in Arizona — some 1,000 and 1,200 restaurants — closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an estimate from the Arizona Restaurant Association (ARA).
On average, 2%-3% of restaurants, or 200-300 restaurants, close each year in Arizona, the ARA said.
Nationally, an estimated 110,000 restaurants temporarily or permanently closed, the National Restaurant Association said in its “2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report,” which was released earlier this week.
Some 80% of the restaurant workforce in Arizona — an industry that employees 230,000 people — was laid-off at its highest point, and $2 billion in sales were lost, said Steve Chucri, CEO and president of the Arizona Restaurant Association and an elected member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
“It was probably one of the roughest years, I can tell you, in Arizona restaurant history,” he told ABC15 on Thursday.
While it is obvious that the work is not over and that restaurants will still need help and support in 2021, Chucri said there are positive signs for the year ahead — as restaurants reopen, more employees are being brought back to work, sales for to-go, pickup, and delivery are up, and many cities and towns have allowed restaurants to extend their outdoor patios, therefore increasing their capacities, without all of the usual government hurdles.
That includes Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, to name a few.
Chucri touted the $4 million that Gov. Doug Ducey and the state have allocated to help restaurants build and furnish their patios.
Under the “Safest Outside Restaurant Assistance Program,” small, Arizona-owned restaurants can apply for up to $10,000 in funding that can be used to buy materials, furniture, heaters, and cover for their patios.
“The good news is, it’s helping us to still seat guests outdoors in our winter months, which aren’t too frigid, to allow us to try and bolster our peak season right now," he said.
He encouraged people to continue to support their local restaurants either by ordering food or purchasing gift cards.
Under current mandates, indoor dining is limited to 50% capacity at restaurants and bars. In order for bars to open, they had to reopen as a restaurant and follow the same guidelines.
Still, there are challenges ahead.
"Our banquet space at fine dining restaurants hasn’t come back. That’s a big part of our business. Catering, going to offices, sandwiches being delivered— all those types of things haven’t come back whatsoever," he said. "So, we still have that hole we're trying to fill."
Danielle Leoni, who closed her restaurant, The Breadfruit and Rum Bar, in March, recently told ABC15 that small, independent restaurants like hers need additional help beyond PPP.
While PPP helps businesses pay employees, Leoni said many small restaurants do not have many employees to pay. Yet, they have rent, utilities, and other bills that need to be paid.
Some of the notable closures of 2020 included Chzburgr, Delux Burgers + Sushi, El Zocalo Mexican Grill, Phoenix Public Market Cafe, La Piazza (Phoenix location)and Piazza Romana, Helio Basin Brewing Co., Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva, and Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row and El Hefe (downtown Tempe locations).