'I don't see us on any road to recovery': Restaurants fight to survive COVID-19

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Co-owner and Chef Sean Arnold is shown at The Left Bank in downtown York City, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

For Sean Arnold, the co-owner of The Left Bank, running the York City restaurant has been a struggle.

With outdoor dining ending in September and ever-challenging inventory shortages, Arnold is unsure when small restaurant owners like himself will fully recover.

"Business is good, but I wouldn’t say it's overly stellar versus this time last year or pre-pandemic," Arnold said. “We're not exceeding where we need to on a week-to-week basis in terms of revenue, so we're close to breaking even, but we're not breaking even yet as a restaurant."

But with the prevalence of the coronavirus'  more virulent delta variant, vaccinations and masking aren't enough to encourage customers to enter indoor spaces.

According to a recent survey by the state Restaurant & Lodging Association, 19% of adults have stopped going out to restaurants.

Co-owner and Chef Sean Arnold is shown at The Left Bank in downtown York City, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Additionally, six in 10 adults changed their restaurant use due to the rise in the delta variant of the coronavirus. The state Restaurant & Lodging Association, in response, is calling for a return of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund — a financial assistance program that originally launched in June.

Arnold, who applied for the fund soon after its launch, did not receive assistance due to funds drying up.

“There’s many restaurants that without the money being replenished could still close or could still go part-time, and they’re still struggling," Arnold said. “There’s a lot of restaurants and other small, independent establishments that are also in the same boat."

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Jim DeLisio, owner of Racehorse Tavern and president of the York County chapter of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, finds himself in that boat.

From his vantage point, stuck between new mandates and ongoing staffing shortages, things are getting worse.

“What was once a lucrative thriving business is now a scary situation — and nobody knows what the future is," DeLisio said. “I don't see us on any road to recovery."

Co-owner and Chef Sean Arnold is shown at The Left Bank in downtown York City, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Like Arnold, DeLisio applied for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund but did not receive money. 

On one hand, he would love for the relief fund to make a return — but he questions who it's actually helping.

“You’ve got all of the corporate businesses coming in, and that's where this money is going to," DeLisio said. "And you have these mom and pop's trying to make ends meet."

Looking ahead, DeLisio said he's debating organizing a chapter meeting of Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association in October and inviting local lawmakers. 

“I'm still fighting, and I'm still here to the end," DeLisio said.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.

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