Washington DC turmoil causing headaches Congressional Seafood
Restaurants in Washington D.C. have faced a series of calamaties in recent months.
First came the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed down restaurants in March and April. Then came protests throughout the summer, which caused damage to restaurants and caused some to temporarily close.
Now, due to the riots and violence at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. on 6 January, and concerns about continued violence during U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January, restaurants in the city must remain closed for indoor dining until 22 January.
Local and national elected officials are urging Americans not to visit D.C. during the inauguration, and AirBnB and HotelTonight have canceled all reservations in the city leading up to the swearing-in ceremony. Adding to that, an expansive perimeter blocking off the public from the White House and the U.S. Capitol includes many restaurants and other businesses.
“Due to the unique circumstances surrounding the 59th Presidential Inauguration, including last week’s violent insurrection as well as the ongoing and deadly COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking the extraordinary step of encouraging Americans not to come to Washington, D.C. and to instead participate virtually,” Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said in a joint statement.
As a result restaurants in the city – especially those near the White House and U.S. Capitol – along with their seafood suppliers and distributors, face unprecedented challenges in maintaining financial viability.
Jessup, Maryland-based Congressional Seafood, which primarily supplies restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, is taking a huge financial hit due to restaurant closures and the lack of visitors flocking to the city for a typical presidential inauguration.
“Some of our largest accounts are right around the White House, the National Mall, and the U.S. Capitol. They are now closed off and have all closed down,” Congressonal President Jon Pearlman told SeafoodSource.
Inaugurations – and the balls and parties surrounding the event – typically produce the highest sales of the year for restaurants and their suppliers, according to Pearlman.
“We love inaugurations – they are great for us. The amount of people it brings into the cities and hotels are some of the best weeks of the year,” Pearlman said. “We have always enjoyed a huge uptick in business for the [events] surrounding of inauguration and none of that will happen this year.”
While Washington, D.C. restaurants have been open for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, many shut down for the winter months due to the cold weather, Pearlman said.
In addition to the customer restrictions, restaurants have had to deal with smashed windows and other vandalism, he noted.
“Even though it hurts my business, I can understand why restaurants are choosing to close for now,” Pearlman said.
As a result, the distributor’s restaurant sales in the D.C. city-limits are down at least 50 percent since Thanksgiving, Pearlman said.
“Typically, we look forward to the holiday season, starting Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day – and inaugurations are huge for us,” Pearlman said.
Since Congressional had been focused primarily on foodservice accounts, its business suffered tremendously at the start of COVID-19, Pearlman said.
“At the beginning of pandemic, we never closed, but were forced to pivot. We were fortunate to have diverse clientele so offset some of the losses,” he said.
As a result, Congressional is servicing more retail accounts and has rolled out more “retail-friendly packaging.”
In addition, it is supplying restaurants that are offering groceries, including raw seafood, for its customers to cook at home.
“We are working with them on supplying them with seafood and [educating them] on how to engage their customers to cook at home,” Pearlman said.
However, after Inauguration Day, “we see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Pearlman said, as dining restrictions are likely to be loosened in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, he recognizes that it is more important to put safety first, Pearlman said.
“Another week is not going to put us out of business. To keep the public safe is most important,” he said.
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