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Western Kentucky Bars, Restaurants React To New COVID-19 Restrictions

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SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION / SBA.GOV
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Some bar and restaurant managers in western Kentucky worry their businesses and employees could financially struggle following new restrictions announced Wednesday by Gov. Andy Beshear to limit the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the state.

During Beshear’s press briefing on COVID-19, the governor announced a series of new restrictions including that bars and restaurants would have to cease indoor services beginning Friday afternoon through Dec. 13. Businesses are able continue with takeout, delivery, and curbside services. Hoyt Moore manages The Keg Bar and Grill in Fulton. He said the restrictions feel unfairly targeted, with retail and grocery stores able to offer indoor services.

“We've been doing everything here by the books. Although we've sterilized everything, we've got every precaution taken whatsoever. And it really irks me that restaurants and bars are predominantly places he’s hitting,” he said.  “We've got Christmas coming up, we've got Thanksgiving coming up.”

Moore said his restaurant had followed coronavirus guidelines for his employees such as social distancing, mask wearing, and sanitization to help ensure safety for customers.

“We’re six-foot social distancing, we spray the entire restaurant with sterilizer. Periodically, we wipe down the door handles, we clean the menus, salt and pepper shakers are sterilized before they go out to each table. Everybody here waiting on tables wears a mask,” Moore said.

He also believed restricting indoor dining service would hurt businesses even more, with the loss in revenue preventing businesses from paying back low-interest Payment Protection Program loans. Moore said his restaurant would be limited to take-out orders, with the revenue from that “only enough to pay the electrical bill”. He worries more restaurants would close.

Chris Devoto is the co-owner and executive chef of The Crowded House, a gastropub in Madisonville. He shared similar concerns as Moore.

“We’ve been doing everything that we can do. We’ve actually stuck at 25% occupancy and had all the tables six to ten feet away,” he said. “And we’ve been just hanging on.”

Devoto said the restrictions caught his business “off guard”. He said employees, staff, and patrons learned about the restrictions at the same time.

“The phone’s been ringing non-stop, the same time we’re trying to process,” he said. 

Devoto said the timing of the restrictions is poor, with his gastropub’s normally three busiest weeks of the year happening now. He added his business’ location in downtown Madisonville could make outdoor seating difficult.

“We’re a small restaurant,” he said. “So, we don’t have the luxury of moving things outdoors. Especially with it getting colder, it’s just not feasible for us to move in that direction. It’s gonna hit us pretty hard.”

Yet the president of the brewery Paducah Beer Werks says his business expected these tighter restrictions with the rapid rate COVID-19 was spreading in Kentucky, potentially endangering customers and employees. Paducah Beer Werks President Todd Blume said the company has been operating without indoor dining for weeks.

“Ever since he [Beshear] announced that McCracken County was in a red zone because of a higher risk of COVID infection rate, we decided to protect our customers and our employees,” he said.

He expects the new restrictions to extend for weeks beyond the Dec. 13 end date.

“I worry that people hear that there’s a vaccine, so they’re like, ‘I can do whatever I want’. And that’s not quite the case yet,” Blume said. “The way I look at it, if we don’t protect our customers and employees, we won’t have anybody to come back to us, and we want to protect everyone.”

Beshear said $40 million of COVID-19 relief funds in total will be made available to select restaurants and bars impacted by the restrictions. Qualifying businesses can receive $10,000 in assistance.

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