The Customer Is Always Right, COVID-1984 Edition

I’ve said before that I stop wanting to put the fire out once it reaches the arsonist’s house. Similarly, I get happy when I see the “for sale” signs sprout in the business windows that yesterday displayed “STAY HOME IF YOU ARE SICK MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCING AT ALL TIMES YOU MUST WEAR A MASK AT ALL TIMES AND TO ENTER THIS PROPERTY” in huge fonts with custom graphics.

I understand that people won’t fight the government when they have something to lose. But when they no longer have anything to lose yet still obey the ones who took it all from them… burn, you lackwits. Seriously, if Governor Newsom banned food then people would starve their own children before they would dare to even think about disobedience to the StateEmpire.

Did I say “would”? I meant “WILL”:

Voices from the Pandemic: ‘It’s like Trump said: The cure has been worse than the disease.’

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By Mike Fratantuono, 26 September 2020

He told you so! And right from the beginning!

I grew up inside this restaurant, and now my wife’s helping out in the dining room and my daughter’s working at the hostess stand. This is a family place — four generations and counting. I know every inch of pipe and wire we have running through here. I’ve been the plumber, the busboy, the handyman, the butcher, the bartender, the prep cook, the manager. I’ve done every job there is in this restaurant, and now I’m the one who has to shut us down.

It kills me. We were supposed to be getting ready to celebrate our 60th anniversary this year, and instead we’re packing up and closing at the end of this month. I’ll find another job, but it’s more than that. It’s home. These walls are like a family photo album. I try not to get too sentimental about it, because it won’t change a damn thing, but sometimes the stress hits me and my heart starts going like crazy. I get frustrated. It makes me angry. How does this whole situation make any sense? I don’t know a single person that’s gotten covid, and I know that’s probably lucky, but right now I can tell you about at least a dozen businesses going under and a few hundred people going broke.

What happened? Competition? Famine? Health inspector found the meth lab?

I know this virus is real, okay? It’s real and it’s awful. I’m not disputing any of that. But our national hysteria is worse. We allowed the virus to take over our economy, our small businesses, our schools, our social lives, our whole quality of life. We surrendered, and now everything’s infected.

Good, good. You take responsibility, Mike. YOU closed your restaurant for longer than it could survive in a shut-down status. The government told you to but whose fingerprints are on the kill switch? Yours.

Let’s review his self-inflicted failure.

I like to believe this restaurant is resilient. We tried to outlast it. My father worked here five days a week until he died at age 82, so that’s in our DNA. When the governor first shut us down in March, I got together with my brother and my cousin, and we agreed to think of this as an opportunity. The restaurant was doing pretty good at that point. We had a little money to spend. We said: “Let’s reinvest back in the business like it’s supposed to be done.” We remodeled the entire bar. We put in new bathrooms and new draft lines. We gave a tour to a few of our loyal customers, and they said: “Wow. When this place opens up, you’re going to fill it every day. You’ll be back bigger than ever.”

Good thinking. Mike couldn’t stop the hysteria so he got some maintenance done.

At first the state was only allowing us do carryout. So, okay. We’ve got five dining rooms, 85 employees, and 13,000 square feet of space, and now you want us to operate like your regular old burger shack? How many people do you know who are willing to spend $40 on a lukewarm steak that’s traveled halfway across town? That’s not our typical business. We’re old school. We don’t have frozen hot wings that we heat up and toss in a cardboard box in five minutes. We buy the chicken fresh, cut off the fat, pound it out and bread it. Your wings take 25 minutes while you’re enjoying a conversation and a cocktail or two. But that’s the old world, right? What choice did we have?

1. Remain closed until the lockdown lifts completely rather than try to reinvent your job to comply with arbitrary, illegal and subject-to-change rules.

2. Reinvent your business as a burger shack.

3. Do the speakeasy thing and re-open on the sly, at least for a core of loyal customers.

4. Re-open on the old business model in order to scrape a quick buck with lukewarm $40 steaks and hope the government has mercy for little people.

I understand why #3 wasn’t his first choice but as things dragged on…

We redid our carryout menu to cut the prices down and teamed up with DoorDash and Grubhub. We created themed menus for Mother’s Day and Easter. We delivered charity meals out to the hospitals and opened up a crab trailer out front so we could sell by the bushel. We were spending $800 a week on carryout containers, and there’s no real profit in any of it. You lose out on booze. You don’t get the same tips.

#4 was not the right choice. There wasn’t a good one but #4 was wrong.

We kept hanging on through March, April and May, but our revenue was down more than 80 percent. We had to lay off 75 people. That’s 75 families dealing with unemployment and financial hardships, and not because a virus made any of them sick.

When the state opened up for outdoor dining, I ran out to every Costco in the area and bought any picnic table I could find. We got 20 for $150 a piece. We roped off the parking lot and put out buckets of cold beer. We tried to make it look nice, but it’s summer in Baltimore, and it’s 90-some degrees outside and you’re selling cream of crab soup to people who are sweating on the asphalt. Nobody really came. Why would they come? We stood out there for nine hours each day and we waited.

Mike, the government was TRYING to kill your business. Once “Fifteen Days to Flatten the Curve” because “Three Months And Counting”, you should have realized that City Hall’s actions were not matching City Hall’s words. As soon as the state government released its five-plus-phase to end the lockdown, with promises up front that permissions would be unpredictably granted then denied then granted then denied once again, you should have realized the practical impossibility of meeting all the standards of all the layers of government, all the time.

And then, you should have remembered why your restaurant existed. To service CUSTOMERS! Not to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

We got more creative. We kept on trying. We opened up at 50 percent capacity and had live music, themed dinners, mystery nights and a meal with a psychic. We reinvented this restaurant a dozen times, but none of it worked.

QED. A dozen times wasn’t enough to keep up with THE GOVERNMENT CHANGING THE RULES. In California, Gavin Newscum even bragged that he was playing the lockdown recovery like a dimmer switch at a rave.

What Mike didn’t do was what the customers wanted: a fancy meal with their friends.

Segue #1

Health secretary explains when California will use ‘dimmer switch’ to close more businesses

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21 July 2020

Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced several waves of mandatory closings over the past month as California continues to fight a surge in coronavirus cases.

It’s a tactic the state isn’t afraid to pursue even further if necessary, said Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly Tuesday.

“We will always have that finger on the dimmer switch. We are not afraid to use it,” said Ghaly.

Mark Ghaly. I’ve grown frustrated with physiognomy… either I suck at it or it really is just a pseudoscience… but then I see faces like this one.

Gov. Newsom has used the “dimmer switch” metaphor to describe the state’s plan to toggle back reopening in areas where we’re seeing increased COVID-19 transmission.

“We continue to watch the data very closely, and if we need to do even more with our strategies of closing, you know, changing and modifying further and maybe even considering other closures, we will do that,” said Ghaly. “But I think it is really kind of reaching this equilibrium.”.

“I will underscore, if the data trends turn to such a place where we aren’t confident we will get there, there will be potential for further dimming in parts of the state,” Ghaly reiterated.

When that’s the official government statement, you don’t retool your business for the moment’s New Normal. Either you stay closed and bide your time or defy the rules that you couldn’t keep if you wanted to.

Segue #2

Newsom Puts Brakes on COVID ‘Dimmer Switch’

Governor Unveils Four-Colored System for Turning Lights Back on in Time of COVID-19

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29 September 2020

The big news of the day was the four-colored, tiered system just announced by Governor Gavin Newsom that afternoon for re-restarting the economy. The new system, to use Newsom’s language, will be more “stubborn” and “stringent” than the system in effect since earlier this summer when he gave all 58 counties the authority to individually determine whether they had the capacity to do enough testing and tracking and tracing to keep COVID under wraps.

The new color-codes tier system goes from purple to red to orange to yellow, purple being the most restrictive in terms of what’s allowed and yellow being the most wide open. Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties are all purple. In fact, 87 percent of the state residents, said Supervisor Gregg Hart, live in purple counties. Only 12 percent live in red counties, one percent in orange and one-tenth of one percent in yellow.

They already redesigned the entire bureaucracy! Forget about giving your family-owned business a consistent answer on what will make them happy.

Translated into simplified terms, in purple counties, there is no indoor restaurant dining. In red counties, restaurants will be allowed to provide 25 percent of its service indoors.

How is that supposed to work, restaurants operating at 25% capacity? Simple, it’s not supposed to work. Profit margins for restaurants are so thin that 50% can’t work, either, but I see businesses rushing (to Costco, a company that never had to close in the first place!) to square that impossible circle.

Why? Because Big Brother said 50%, or 25%, or outdoor only, so that is what the proles do. The proles trust Big Brother because Big Brother loves them!

As a practical matter, the new color-coded system will not cause any businesses currently operating — at least legally — to scale back. It will, however, put a significant brake on their ability to expand.

And it’s subject to replacement, just like the last system was. Am I belaboring this enough? Do you see the game? Government wants people jobless and begging for welfare this election cycle because welfare is the fat teat of Socialism.

End segues.

And what kind of support did we get? More rules. More restrictions. More regulations, mandates and curfews. We have to close at 10 p.m., because I guess maybe covid comes out at 10:01 — except apparently not at the casino down the road, because they have political leverage, and they get to stay open as long as they want.

With sarcasm like that, Mike and I could have been friends.

You can sit at our bar and have a drink, but you can’t get up and mingle, because that’s considered a health violation, so now I’m trying to serve you and police you at the same time. “Thanks for coming! We really need your business. Now put on your mask or sit the hell back down!” I have to buy disinfectants, individual ketchups, paper menus, and personal salt-and-pepper shakers or else I might get fined. My employees have to wear their masks all the time, even when they’re alone in an office, but meanwhile we have a group of 40 people in the dining room with no masks on, and that’s deemed safe because they’re drinking water? None of it makes any sense.

Decision time for Mike. Will he give the customer what the customer wants, or will he tell them ‘Government Guidelines, it’s not my choice’?

We had a customer come in the other day, and she couldn’t get seated because we had a few other tables, and we’d hit our 50 percent capacity in the one dining room she likes. I had to ask her to wait. I’d rather sit her down and take her money. I hate this rule, but now I have to enforce it.

Mike chose… poorly.

But she could see all the empty tables, and she didn’t understand it. She got mad and decided to call 911 and tell them we were over capacity. Two armed police officers came through here. The whole foyer was empty. There was nobody at the bar. I’ve got a max fire rating on the wall for 323 people, and they couldn’t count up to 100. I told them: “I dream about being over capacity, but I doubt it will happen again.”

We went to see our accountant at the end of the summer. He looked over the numbers but he didn’t say much, and that’s not like him. I said: “What would you do?” He said the way things were going, we’d have nothing left to lose within a few months.

We made the decision right then. There wasn’t much to discuss.

“Let’s make our restaurant a speakeasy.”

Our last day is September 30th, and then we’re done.

Quitter. Mike did this to himself. He ignored the warning signs, he burned out his seed corn trying to please the bureaucrats who wanted him gone and finally, he closed up the family shop because he loved Big Brother more than Customer.

Maybe the government would have shut him down had he rebelled but that would have been on them, not him. I end with a clue for the clueless:



4 thoughts on “The Customer Is Always Right, COVID-1984 Edition

  1. Well, I’ll be damned … the Sunset Restaurant in Glen Burnie, Maryland. I lived a few miles down the road from the place for the 13 years I lived in that area, and I spend many, many an evening in the restaurant and bar, as well as a sizable portion of my disposable income at the time, enjoying some of the best Chesapeake Bay seafood in the Baltimore metro area. I knew Mike and his brother, too.

    The Sunset is literally an Anne Arundel County landmark, an institution, sixty years and countless generations of locals having made it a regular part of their lives. It is one of the VERY few things about that area that I can say that I miss.

    HOWEVER, with that said, Mike screwed himself and his customers. So did everyone else in Maryland. Generations of SMIBs (that’s “Southern Maryland Inbreds,” or, since stupidity in Maryland is by no means confined to the southern part of the state, I substitute “Stupid” for “Southern”) have reflexively, brainlessly, and dogmatically voted liberal Democrat. THE ENTIRE FREAKING STATE. Maryland is, in fact, the original “one-party state.” That’s why Mike and family should have damned well known that their misery was on its way to their doorstep MONTHS before they were faced with closing the Sunset’s doors for good.

    By the way, I wonder if the Anne Arundel County cops who were called on Mike by the dissatisfied Karen he mentioned (and oh, GAWD, does the Bal’mer area have some Karens!) and who harrassed him that evening still drink after closing hours in the Sunset’s bar? They sure did back in the day – regularly. How have those decades of kissing porcine blue ass worked out for you so far, Mike?

    Mike, I want you to think about what your grandfather would have done back in 1960 when he first opened the Sunset, if Annapolis had issued some loony, unconstitutional, unlawful fiat ordering him to close indefinitely, or turn away half of his customers. I can just about guarantee you that he and the rest of Glen Burnie’s business owners would have driven the 20 minutes down Route 2 to Annapolis to burn the state capitol building and the governor’s mansion to the ground, and would also have gunned down any cops that tried to stop them (I really doubt the cops back then would have enforced any such asinine and illegal fiats, but that’s for another speculative rant elsewhere). But there are no men left in Maryland like your grandfather, so here you are, bitching out and destroying his legacy and your livelihood. Maybe you can justify yourself to him in the next life.

    Meanwhile, Mike, you and every other restauranteur in the country in the same shoes you’re wearing are getting what you deserve for playing the Covidiocy game. Stupid games, stupid prizes, and all that.

    Liked by 3 people

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  3. I’ve been saying this since April, but the war was already as good as lost when, decades and decades ago, we accepted the premise that you needed to hang a permission slip from the government in your barber shop, florist, funeral home, restaurant, or salon.

    This is just a mop up effort. House to house, shooting survivors.

    Liked by 2 people

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