As the coronavirus pushes the U.S. economy into its deepest slump since the Great Recession, the downturn is hitting small businesses especially hard. Restaurant owner Ed McFarland faces the additional challenge of operating in New York City, site of the country's largest and deadliest outbreak. He spoke with CBS MoneyWatch about how he and his business are faring. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CBS MoneyWatch: The virus has turned New York City, which has 9 million people, into a virtual ghost town. How is that affecting Ed's Lobster bar?
Ed McFarland: It goes without saying that business is way down. When you go from a full service sit-down restaurant to a takeout and delivery restaurant — when it was less than 3% to 5% of your sales before this happened — it's a very difficult thing.
Given the huge drop-off in business, why did you decide to stay open?
I come from a mindset of, you have to figure out a way to work through it. You can dwell on the fact that we had to close, or you can look at the fact that this gave us the ability to do takeout and delivery.
So in some ways you see this as an opportunity?
A lot of people fled the city and went to their summer homes, but there are still a great number of people and regular diners around. From my perspective, it's worth the effort for the staff that I can keep on, and for myself, to take the time to develop an additional call center that didn't exist before coronavirus. I took the attitude of, "Let's work toward something here and see what we make out of this." I could be wrong and we could never develop a delivery business, but at the end of the day it's been worth the effort.
It sounds like you feel lucky just to be working. What role do restaurants serve in these extraordinary circumstances, when businesses are suddenly cut off from their customers?
People are cooped up in their houses and their apartments, and it has become a tough, difficult thing. I am fortunate that I can get out every day and still do what I do for a living. As we get deeper into social distancing as the month of April goes on, I think neighborhood customers are going to look for that outlet and support their favorite people — a server or a restaurant — by popping in and grabbing takeout, because it will allow them to escape for a moment.
How long have you been in business?
I opened on March 16, 2007. The first day of the shutdown due to the virus was the 13th anniversary of Ed's. It was pretty interesting — I kind of chuckled and had a drink with a couple of staff members who were helping to get our takeout business going. Some employees have been with me for over 12 years, and we were able to have a drink and laugh about it.
Have you applied for a federal loan?
I will apply for a Payroll Protection Program loan [The federal program, part of the government's $2.2 trillion economic relief initiative in response to the coronavirus,.] For me, it's the best option because you can use it for your payroll, rent and to help get our staff back on board. I am open, so it allows me to put more hours on for my staff and bring people back for the front-of-house. It would be extremely helpful right now. I could have used it last week if the money had come out then. I know my staff could use it as well. They would like more hours and to get back to full-time work.
Assuming the virus is contained, how quickly do you expect business to bounce back?
When this shutdown is over I think you will see people flock to restaurants, but not like it was before. I think there will still be this social distancing fear of, "I don't want to sit next to somebody." I don't think the government will open us up 100% right away, either. They will have the challenge of getting the economy back moving, while also keeping us from having another outbreak.
How has the pandemic affected you and your family on a personal level?
The hardest part for me has been going back to working seven days a week. It's hitting my family harder because I am not at home. I have two small children, and that's where I feel it the most because I am gone in the morning every day and at night — I am not home until everyone is back in bed.
It's almost like starting from scratch again, but I didn't have small children when I first opened the restaurant. There wasn't that factor of, "Daddy's not home." I have worked 21 days straight. That's the new reality. We are operating at a loss, so if I put someone else on to give me a day off, it will put me more in a hole when we do reopen. But I do feel the effects at home.