N.J. restaurant industry, politicians press for more federal aid

Patrons dine at The Brass Rail in Hoboken, N.J.

Patrons dine at The Brass Rail in Hoboken, N.J., Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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As Republicans and Democrats in Congress continue to haggle over a new coronavirus stimulus bill, restaurant and bar owners in New Jersey say the time has long passed for another boost to the industry.

Industry leaders and members of the Garden State’s Congressional delegation held a Zoom press conference Tuesday to underline the need for more help to the state’s hospitality sector.

“Restaurants and hotels mostly hire from within their community. These are New Jersey jobs and New Jersey residents, and they need your help,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

According to a November survey by the National Restaurant Association, 91% of New Jersey operators expected their sales to dip over the next three months, and 78% guessed they would have to lay off workers in the same time period.

Kirk Ruoff, founder of Turning Point Restaurants which includes 20 restaurants across the Delaware Valley, said he laid off three-quarters of his staff early in the pandemic, but federal stimulus money allowed him to hire many of them back.

Ruoff predicts that things are about to get dire again for the restaurant business.

“Now we’re going into the winter, and there’s no funding, and we’re going back the other way,” he said.

U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, both Democrats, spoke alongside several members of the state’s House delegation about the need for another stimulus package to prop up a teetering economy.

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers is scheduled to unveil a $908 billion bill, though it is unclear whether there is enough support to pass the measure.

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-Morris, said federal assistance is urgent because local businesses that have taken years or generations to build are on the edge of shutting down for good.

“It would be such a crime to have them lose those businesses now because we are so close to the finish line,” Sherrill said. “We know a vaccine is in sight. We’ve just got to get people through the winter right now.”

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