We're entering the first weekend of the new Phase 2 in King County. I've already seen large groups of twenty-to-thirtysomethings dining out around Capitol Hill, indoors, maskless, spewing their particles on waiters who have no choice but to stand feet away from them. Who knew so many young people lived in households of five to six people?
This careless behavior is apparently allowed in our county, even though we're just getting ahold of our coronavirus cases, which still remain at unsafe levels, as Public Health Seattle & King County chief Dr. Jeff Duchin reminded us yet again at a press conference today.
During this time of insanity, I've looked to Addo's Chef Eric Rivera, a vocal critic of indoor dining during a pandemic, for some eviscerating words of wisdom. Rivera "openly courts controversy," wrote Stranger contributor Jordan Michelman in a November interview with the chef, "calling bullshit where he sees it on chefs sacrificing safety for profit during COVID." He's compared people dining out in packed dining rooms to dinosaurs amidst a meteor impact.
So it should be no surprise that Rivera is sticking with takeout, Phase 2 be damned. We had a quick phone chat this week about death, selfishness, and dining.
We pruned this interview for clarity.
Could you talk a little bit about the timing of this Phase 2 announcement and how it relates to the restaurant industry?
ERIC RIVERA: So the Super Bowl is this weekend, and then we go into Mardi Gras—it's not a big deal here, but it is in other parts of the country. And then we go into Valentine's Day, which is a big day for everybody. And that's a considerable date for restaurants, you know, until they get to, like, Easter. So it's very convenient that all this stuff is happening.
In the meantime, though, you have the CDC talking about variants from the UK and Brazil and South Africa. And it's just pretty clear to see why we're opening now. Everybody's getting a chance to open again, just to open for these dates. And it's really ridiculous. It's just going to lead us to go back into [shutdowns]. And for me, I don't actually see being open as an option anymore other than just doing takeout. That's about it.
Are you able to do comparable numbers for Valentine's Day just with takeout?
Yep. I'll give you an example of numbers from last year. With indoor dining, we did 20-by-20, so 40 people. And that's it. That's the maximum amount of people we could have at the restaurant for doing a more elaborate menu. This year we'll do more people, but we're at a lower price point. So it's kind of a give-and-take, right?
This year, we have two different menus. We have one that's lower-priced and then we have one that's more of a package. So people can have options. We'll end up doing more this year revenue-wise than last year for Valentine's Day, but that also takes into account us doing our own delivery system. All of a sudden we've got to-go containers and all that kind of stuff. So actually it's pretty much a wash.
Doesn't it cost a lot of money to open and close a restaurant? Why do you think people are rushing to restart indoor dining, especially if they might just have to close again in four weeks?
There are different styles of restaurant. You've got your bigger house restaurants, like El Gaucho. For them, that's an easy on/off switch. Then you have your chain restaurants, like the Cheesecake Factory. They don't care. They'll steamroll anybody just to get their doors open. On a local level, you have your smaller chain people, you know, like Tom Douglas. I don't pay attention to him. And then it's the independent and small restaurants.
I have to be way more careful because I don't have investors. I just have this restaurant. If we open it up and then we have to close again, our revenue stream dries up. It goes away, you know? It's just quick as that. The way I run my business is very extreme. It's all-closed or all-opened. And right now, there's literally no in-between.
This is probably the hardest question, but how do you measure when it is safe to reopen?
I feel like it's going to take years. Yeah. I don't intend on opening back up again this year, just because there are so many variables with people. There are people saying they don't want to take the vaccine because they believe all these different reasons. So for me, I see this being something permanent and lasting for years.
So what do you think this all looks like next year?
I think the dynamic of restaurants is going to change massively. It's just going to be decimated even further. I can't see a lot of people coming back from this. I can't see a lot of people in six months going, "Okay, cool. Things are great. Let's just open up for 100% [capacity]." That's not gonna happen either. This is a long-term thing.
And you also have employees that are at the ground-level that have maybe been working all the way through this. There's a lot of mental health issues that are going to pop up out of this, and also health issues or people that have even died, you know? There's gonna be a lot of fallout from that. And I don't think people have really seen that or understood that yet. I think there are a lot of people that may be still living in shock or even denial. But once that stuff starts to hit people, it's going to be a really dark place. That's the way I kind of look at it. It's going to be very dark, and I don't even think we're at the worst part yet, to be honest.
I was reading a Q&A this week where this restauranteur felt like the majority of his restaurant staff just really wanted to get back to work. Is that your feeling?
I think that's delusional and dangerous, to be honest. There's a lot of brainwashing that happens within restaurants. You have to hype people up to clean up after people, make food for them, stand next to 500-degree fire and act like that's something normal you should be doing to make a living, while a lot of restaurants pay and treat their people like shit. So anyone who's saying right now like, "Oh man, our employees are gearing up and they're so excited to go back" is like a fucking Best Buy morning-of Black Friday sale, like, "Hey guys, let's get excited!" They're just full of shit.
If there's a hundred people that go into your restaurant, and one of those people gets sick, how many people get sick on top of that? With indoor dining opening up again, we've seen this over and over and over again. Really by this point, if anybody's like that excited to open back up, they have a death wish.
I can't imagine opening my restaurant up and forcing my employees to stand a foot away from somebody to put something in front of them. There's nothing I make that's good enough to make that okay.
Are there any restaurateurs who you think are doing a good job leading right now?
I don't think so.
This is seriously deadly. Almost half a million people have died. I'm not going to sit here and pretend, like, "Yay, come back! We're opening our doors!" That's insane, you know? So, I don't see anybody really being vocal and I'm not expecting anybody to.
Look, they have to answer to somebody, whether it's investors or their guests or whoever else. I don't know. But on my level, I grew up here, and I've lived here almost my entire life. So for me, that's the bigger calling. How am I going to sit here and be like this local product and be okay with all of this?
In addition to their other takeout packages, Addo offers takeout for Valentine's Day (single and shared), Mardi Gras, and the Super Bowl. Please refrain from partying with people outside your household germ circle.