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For some Georgia restaurants, reopening brought bills, not customers - so they closed

"After 10 years of working for something and then getting it and then have it taken away at no fault of your own that’s a hard pill to swallow."

ATLANTA — We’re starting to get a glimpse of some of the restaurants in Georgia that were forced to buckle under the constraints of the pandemic.

Simon’s Restaurant in Midtown told its customers this week it would close in a Facebook post

"We do not foresee a successful return to business in the COVID-19 environment and the lasting impact on our operations," the post said.

Although we expected to see this happen to some restaurants, it doesn’t make it any easier. The current restaurant labor force has reverted back to what it was 30 years ago. 

RELATED: These metro Atlanta restaurants have permanently closed since the coronavirus pandemic

While Gov. Brian Kemp tried to reignite our economy by being one of the first to reopen, some restaurant owners say it did more harm than good. 

For 10 years, Will Turner worked to make his dream happen -- turning his highly successful food truck, The Blaxican, into a free-standing sit-down restaurant on Peachtree Industrial Blvd. 

This week, the place he filled with his passion -- cooking and serving others -- was emptied, wiped out by COVID-19.

"After 10 years of working for something and then getting it and then have it taken away at no fault of your own, that’s a hard pill to swallow," said Turner.

"The restaurant industry as a whole is a very difficult business," said Chris Munsey, general manager of Lucky's Burger and Brew in Brookhaven. "We operate on small margins. There’s not a lot of cash on hand... Some restaurants have maybe a month or two months of cash on hand and when an event like this hits it could be devastating."

That was the case for one of Lucky’s four locations. The virus accelerated the decline of its already struggling Emory Village location. 

"When COVID hit and they basically sent all the students home, it really became untenable over there. It was a heartbreaking decision for our ownership," said Munsey.

RELATED: With more than 1 million claims in April, Georgia unemployment surges to nearly 12%

As of last month, nearly six million restaurant jobs have been lost -- that’s according to the National Restaurant Association. 

For small business owners who were struggling to pay their bills, expected relief from reopening may have hurt them more. 

"When the governor officially opened the state back up, that changed the mindset of the creditors that we owed money to -- the vendor and the landlord --and it shifted from 'we’ll work with you' to 'we need our money now,'" said Turner.

He said 90 percent of his customers worked near his restaurant. Without them fully back in the office, his seats remained empty.

Both Munsey and Turner are optimistic, though, about the industry's ability to come back bigger and better than ever. 

"I’m seeing sales go up every single day over the last two weeks and starting to bring the staff back, so starting to feel pretty good about things," said Munsey.

This week President Trump met with leaders in the restaurant industry. They pressed the president to extend the deadline for spending PPP loans from 8 weeks to 24 weeks. 

While the president called the request reasonable, it’s not clear how much of an extension will be given.

On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Georgia to visit with Gov. Kemp and restaurant industry leaders.


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