Restaurants could see post-pandemic boom, leading economist tells Del. business leaders

Dustin Mitchell fills up a growler for take-out orders at Iron Hill Brewery. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Dustin Mitchell fills up a growler for take-out orders at Iron Hill Brewery. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Delaware business leaders gathered online for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s first ever virtual dinner Monday night. In a typical year, the event is a prime opportunity for hundreds of business leaders to rub elbows and network. But this year’s networking happened over computer networks as the grand dinner transitioned into an online event.

The event started with the annual economic forecast, delivered this year by James Glassman, head economist at Chase Commercial Banking. He predicted a quick return to businesses as usual for the restaurant industry once the pandemic subsides and more and more Americans get vaccinated.

“The big winners are going to be the restaurants, the bars, the fitness centers, because once that vaccine is out there, and you get control of the curve, we’re all going to be desperate to get out and see our friends,” Glassman said. “That is our community. Those are the businesses that depend on our local community.”

While he predicted the restaurant industry should operate similarly to the pre-pandemic days, other business sectors could look different in a post-pandemic world.

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“The bigger challenge is going to be what lies ahead for office space and things like that,” he said.

Glassman says it’s too soon to say that the benefits of working from home will eliminate the need for commuters to travel to city centers for work.

“The energy you get in urban areas like New York City, it’s a real magnet,” he said. “I think that once we feel safe, you might be surprised how much we start moving back.”

The event ended with the presentation of the Josiah Marvel Cup to former Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard Frank Vavala. The award is given annually to a Delawarean who has made an outstanding contribution to the state, community, or society. It’s named in honor of the first president of the State Chamber in 1913. Former winners include Joe and Jill Biden in 2018.

Vavala led the Delaware National Guard under three consecutive governors, from 1999 until his retirement in 2017. He is the first Delaware National Guardsman to achieve four-star rank and was one of the longest-tenured Adjutants General in the country.

“General Vavala embodies what it means to serve the state and nation. For more than 50 years, both in uniform and out, he has made a tremendous impact on our National Guard and the state of Delaware,” said Major General Michael R. Berry, current Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard. “He normally is the one giving out the recognition and awards, so it’s only right he gets some recognition.”

The Bidens sent a video message to congratulate Vavala. President-elect Biden said he called on Vavala for his expertise as the Obama administration moved to have the National Guard elevated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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“Don’t worry, Frank, I’m still going to be calling on you,” Biden said. “As president and commander-in-chief, I know I can count on you to keep speaking out on behalf of the National Guard and their family. General, we need you.”

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