Zimmern’s Take
Minnesota restaurant and bars, including Bar Brava in Minneapolis, closed by state order on Tuesday. Photo by Caitlin Abrams for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

Zimmern’s Take

The state’s biggest food celebrity on the struggle facing shuttered independent restaurants and what the future might hold.

When Gov. Walz spoke to the press about closing the state’s restaurants and bars, joining him on the dais was the 

Twin Cities’ own Andrew Zimmern. The global food celebrity currently hosts What’s Eating America on MSNBC, but also owns a TV production company and a variety of food-based businesses as well, most notably Lucky Cricket in St. Louis Park..

At the presser he spoke eloquently and emotionally about the need for restaurants to close to facilitate social distancing and also of the inevitably high price the hospitality industry would pay for it, insisting then and in other media interviews that a majority of closed venues would not reopen. We asked Zimmern to elaborate.

“Most restaurants don’t have reserves of cash,” Zimmern says. He explains that Lucky Cricket saw an earlier downturn than most restaurants as American diners began avoiding Asian restaurants before business dropped at the others. “It’s not like restaurants weren’t operating in the red for the last few weeks.”

He calls the takeout and delivery services independent restaurants are offering currently “charity work,” to be of service to the community and to keep some staff paid. But maintaining that operation is contingent on keeping employees healthy during a pandemic. He estimates that half the people in the restaurant industry are non-citizens. “They don’t have insurance,” he says.

The pandemic will ease, at some point, and restaurants will be allowed to resume operations. “At the current state, today, there is not a package of benefits that would allow most independent restaurants to reopen.” He would like to see a business interruption package offered through the Small Business Administration for independent restaurants.

 

Though Zimmern anticipates great pent-up demand when the hospitality sector returns to life, he is convinced it will be at strictly controlled capacities while the virus is being fought.

He notes that the country is home to 15 million restaurant workers and half of them have lost their jobs. “We want to stay open,” Zimmern says, “we want to keep people working, we are the most philanthropic for-profit sector of the economy.”

As for Zimmern’s other businesses, his other food businesses are on ice for the duration (they made the decision not to offer takeout through Lucky Cricket for now). His TV production arm, Intuitive Content, is “closing everything, all production is on hold,” due to the virus, though his team is completing post-production on content that is due to networks (His MSNBC show airs its last two episodes this and next Sunday.).

Given so many are cooped up in their home with an indefinite timeline for the reemergence of sports and other pastimes, he says networks are looking to “activate shows for production now; everyone is scrambling to figure out how to create content.” His team plans to spend next week brainstorming ways to contribute.