KENILWORTH, NJ – The leaders and advisors of six regional food service cooperatives held a virtual meeting with U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on June 17 to present their proposal for additional assistance to meet the challenges faced by their members as diners and restaurants begin to reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Harry Mihas and James Logothetis of Pan Gregorian Enterprises, Inc. of New Jersey, Dimitrios Kafhitsas of Pan Gregorian of Metro New York and Long Island, Sakis Tyrnas of Pan Gregorian of Upper New York, Chris Scabardonis of Pan Gregorian of New England, Nick Apostolopoulos of Pan Gregorian of the Carolinas and John Zoulis of Pan Gregorian Enterprises of Maryland, Inc. were among the cooperative executives who thanked Senator Menedez for his efforts to date, but emphasized that much more must be done if this crucial segment of the economy is to survive.
PPP Loans an Important Start, But Not Nearly Enough
Andreas Comodromos, CPA, speaking for the group, emphasized that the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan program was greatly appreciated, but that the continuing restrictions on operations in many states, the refusal of employees to return to work, mandatory social distancing requirements, and the general public's concerns about safety present serious obstacles to recovery. Although recent legislation extended the use of the PPP funds from 8 to 24 weeks, the reality is that the funds made available thus far are insufficient and fall considerably short of what is needed for a transition to recovery. A large number of family-owned eateries will face extinction unless additional significant steps are taken to support the industry.
Summary of the Proposal
Stephen M. Vajtay, Jr., Esq., counsel to Pan Gregorian of New Jersey, presented Senator Menendez with a summary of the group's proposal designed to provide the types of assistance that family-owned diners and restaurants need to survive. The proposal includes:
– A targeted federal program to provide grants to closely-held diners, restaurants and eateries in line with proposals made by the Independent Restaurant Coalition and the National Restaurant Association. The cooperative executives specifically endorsed the $120 billion Restaurant Act of 2020 proposed by Representative Earl Blumenauer (3rd District, Ore.);
– A new tax credit to be made available to closely-held restaurants that would reimburse owners to the extent they must supplement the lost tip income of their serving staff in order to satisfy minimum wage requirements;
– Immunity from tort claims if eating establishments follows all federal and state guidelines once they are permitted to reopen; and
– Elimination of current financial disincentives to return to work and implementation of a return-to-work bonus.
Senator Menendez thanked the diner and restaurant representatives for their advocacy and said he was receptive to the group's proposal while noting that many other industry groups were also competing for enhanced federal support. He noted that the federal government had already committed trillions of dollars to restarting the economy and that as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, he was keenly aware of the impact existing and future relief programs would have on the U.S. economy in the future. That said, the Senator acknowledged that family-owned restaurants face unique and critical challenges that need to be addressed. He and the industry group agreed to continue to communicate and collaborate on solutions to the post-pandemic hurdles confronting family-owned diners and restaurants.
In this file photo, Pan Gregorian Enterprises honoree Andreas Comodromos with his wife Anna, their children Demetrios Comodromos, Eliza and Paul Lagan and their grandchildren Anna-Maria, Sophia, and Yannis. (Photo: TNH File /Kostas Bej)
About the Pan Gregorian Cooperatives:
"Pan Gregorian" is the trade name of an association of cooperative corporations originated by Pan Gregorian Enterprises, Inc. in New Jersey and which includes Pan Gregorian Enterprises of Metro NY and Long Island, Pan Gregorian Enterprises of Upper New York, Pan Gregorian Enterprises of New England, Pan Gregorian Enterprises of the Carolinas and Pan Gregorian Enterprises of Maryland, Inc.
Each Pan Gregorian cooperative negotiates food and service contracts for the benefit of its member restaurants, which are primarily family-owned small businesses. By combining the buying power of hundreds of small foodservice businesses, Pan Gregorian can obtain pricing for its members that is only available to the largest chain and franchise eateries. The Pan Gregorian cooperatives listed above have well over 3200 member businesses and employ over 100,000 individuals in the aggregate. Pan Gregorian members include closely-held restaurants, diners, catering/banquet halls and small dining establishments owned and operated primarily by Greek-Americans and their families.
The full proposal follows: