Dandan restaurant co-owner Dan Jacobs makes direct appeal to Joe Biden for COVID-19 relief

Dan Jacobs, a chef-owner at Dandan Restaurant at 360 E. Erie St.

Dandan restaurant co-owner Dan Jacobs got a chance to speak directly with President-elect Joe Biden Wednesday during a virtual event on the economic impact of COVID-19.

And Jacobs didn’t mince words about the dire financial situation facing restaurants in Milwaukee and across the country as they deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.    

“This is the big one, Mr. President-elect,” Jacobs said.

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“We need grant help and we need that grant help now,” Jacobs added, pushing for Congress to pass $120 billion in support to the restaurant industry through passage of the so-called RESTAURANTS Act.

Jacobs was among four people to make their case to Biden on the need for relief.

“We have to provide for you the ability to open and open safely,” Biden told Jacobs and others during the conversation.

“Putting this money into the economy generates economic growth,” Biden said. “It generates so much growth when your restaurant employee goes out and buys a used car, gets that first apartment, purchases new clothing.”

Biden warned them that it’s “going to be hard as hell the next 50, 70 days,” but told them to stay strong and added it’s never wise to bet against America.

Jacobs told Biden what he has gone through since the pandemic swept across the country in March.

He said he is part of hospitality organizations that have been created since the pandemic, including Milwaukee’s Independent Restaurant Coalition.

Jacobs and his business partner, Dan Van Rite, own and operate JVR hospitality group that on March 1 employed more than 90 people, including 80 full-timers, and oversaw three restaurants, a bakery, a restaurant consulting organization and a Dandan kiosk at Fiserv Forum.

“Today, due to COVID, we’ve had to reduce our staff to 26 employees, with only 12 of them being full time.”

He said only two of the firm’s restaurants are open, —Dandan and EsterEv — “because of a 91% revenue loss.”

“Since June 1, here at Dandan restaurant we’ve lost another $700,000 worth of revenue,” he added. “Unfortunately the story isn’t unique.”

“I worry about our future as a company, but I mostly worry about the future of our team as well as the workers of our industry and small businesses nationwide that are furloughed right now,” he said.

Jacobs said the firm did receive government-backed loans in May and June, but they acted mostly “as a Band-Aid, with slow losses and furloughs.”

He said for restaurants the Paycheck Protection Program fell short. His company exhausted the PPP loan in October.

“Patios, it’s winter here in Milwaukee,” he told Biden, comparing it to the former vice president’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“Add that to the exploding COVID positivity rate, it’s come to form a perfect storm of the loss of revenue,” he said.

Jacobs said the firm spent $20,000 to make the restaurants as safe as possible for workers and patrons.

“That money seems like a waste now because it’s just not safe to be indoors with people who aren’t in your bubble,” he said. “We are worse off right now than we were in March. At least in March there was hope and a feeling that we’re all in this together. Now, we look toward the long winter that’s here with a feeling of true desperation.”

Jacobs said that his name was put forward by the Main Street Alliance, a small business group, to speak with Biden. 

“I was honored to be able to do it, to tell the plight of the small business owners and restaurants alike. I believe I was heard. I think he did understand the plight of what we’re going through right now.”