Local restaurant supply chains have been hit by the onset of the COVID-19 virus in T&T. Restaurant owner and chef Attala Maharaj said, “We work with a lot of small and medium business owners from fishermen to farmers, entertainers and cottage industry owners. If we are not operating, it means we aren’t taking seafood from the community fishermen in Carenage, it means no bread orders to our small bakery associate, no green seasoning sales to the Paramin farmers.”
Maharaj is the owner and chef of Sails Restaurant & Pub, located at The Lure, Sweet Water Marina Chaguaramas and The Salty Dog, at T&T Yacht Club.
Maharaj said from the day the first case was announced her business saw a significant decline. She said “Many people cancelled reservations which were made weeks in advance, opting to re-book at a later date when things would have settled down. Even the weekend, which is typically the busiest times for the restaurant was very slow. Last Monday we made the decision to close after the Government made the appeal to bar and restaurant owners. For us, the decision wasn’t easy, but we felt it was in the national best interest to comply. Our location on the water normally works for us, as our customers enjoy taking a drive down and then relaxing on the waterfront with a nice meal. When you take away the ability to dine-in, it impacts establishments such as ours whose location and ambience is a large part of its unique offering. For us the take-away option is not enough to create even short-term sustainability. Many of the businesses that operate in Chaguaramas are linked to the energy and marine sectors, with a vast majority having ties with multi-national and global partners. Many of these companies have instituted work from home mandates, as a result, even the traffic in the area has decreased. It is out of season for the yachties as well so we can’t depend on that line of business. So, Sails is closed—with no revenue coming in, at least for a month in the first instance.”
She said the Salty Dog, which operates as a member’s club, has also been impacted by the Public Health Regulations.
They have closed their bar and are limiting the number of members and staff on the compound. As a result, this venue was also closed.
Maharaj said her 35 member staff has been sent home on no-pay leave.
She said “We have just about 35 members of staff with the majority being full-time employees. We have some part-timers that come on during busy season and peak periods, but they have all been negatively impacted. Many of them have a skill set that’s specific for the hospitality industry and with the entire sector being impacted it makes the options for work very limited.”
Maharaj said despite the setbacks, there has been a silver lining of sorts—her landlords are not putting the squeeze on her for rent.
She said, “We have been very fortunate at both locations in so far as both landlords have adopted a wait and see approach. Everyone is looking at long-term sustainability here, we may have to make a few sacrifices for a month or two but we believe it will provide us with some long term rewards.”
She said short term recovery depends on the fiscal packages offered by government. She said “It goes without saying that Trinbagonians are a resilient people we have endured hardships before and have emerged at the end of the tunnel. To ask if the economy will recover soon, well that is like trying to project the price of oil, it’s a very organic situation with a lot of influencing factors,and since we are still very much an energy economy, I think it’s a little too early in the game to give a definitive prognosis.”
Maharaj said thankfully this country has put things in place for rainy days and once the coronavirus has gone, everyone, including business owners would have to do their part to rebuild.
“You can’t take things in isolation though, recovery means all hands-on deck and a united approach going forward. For instance, immediate short-term recovery depends on the stimulus package that the Government will provide to businesses and individuals impacted by this tragedy. The Government must continue with an expansionary fiscal policy complemented by an accommodating monetary policy, all agencies and arms of Government need to speak to each other during this time. It may sound counter-intuitive as people tend to be fiscally cautious at times like this but it will be critical to keep money flowing in the economy in the upcoming months,” she said.
“The important thing is the preservation of life. We need to adhere to the instructions from our health care professionals so that we live to fight another day.”