Texas restaurant owner: We need to reopen at 100 percent or not at all

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The Texas economy needs to either open up 100 percent capacity or not at all in order for the restaurant industry to return to its full operating level, Chairman and CEO of Charter Holdings Ray Washburne warned Thursday.

In an interview on "America's Newsroom" with host Ed Henry, Washburne -- who is a member of President Trump's reopening council of business leaders -- said that hiring with a 25 percent open is specifically hard when the staff makes more money after filing for unemployment.

"Well, I'm just talking from a practical business sense," he stated. "The first thing we're concerned about is the health and safety of our employees and our customers. And so, [we're] taking that into account first. But, if you're going to crawl to 25 percent being the largest employer in the state of Texas is the restaurant business, and we just can't go at something at just 25 percent.

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"The losses are going to amount for the entire industry. We have got to go bring employees back on. We have to run 100 percent kitchen [and] 100 percent front of [the] house," Washburne continued further. "And, I applaud the governor for wanting to get the state back up, but at 25 percent the operation difficulties are immense for all of us. You [are]... either all in or not. If they choose not to open up...I would rather not open at all then [at] 25 percent and wait until we get to 75 or 100 percent.

"But, reopening just from a business sense at 25 percent is extremely difficult and it could be very, I think, counterproductive and counterintuitive to getting us back profitable again," said Washburne, whose company operates M Crowd Restaurant Group.

Texas Gov.Greg Abbott gives an update on the coronavirus, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Austin, Texas. Abbott declared a state of disaster Friday as the coronavirus pandemic spread to all of the state's biggest cities. Abbott declared a state of disaster Friday as the coronavirus pandemic spread to all of the state's biggest cities. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas Gov.Greg Abbott gives an update on the coronavirus, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Austin, Texas. Abbott declared a state of disaster Friday as the coronavirus pandemic spread to all of the state's biggest cities. Abbott declared a state of disaster Friday as the coronavirus pandemic spread to all of the state's biggest cities. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Washburne believes that the key is a full reopening and "bringing everybody back."

"If you are a retail store you can open at 25 percent because you have a few people in [it]. A restaurant is a very complicated operation from the kitchen staff to all aspects of your business," he explained. "And, taking a 200 or 300 seat restaurant and just saying you can bring in 40 or 50 people is just going to be a massive drain. I think it's going to have an opposite effect of what they're thinking."

According to Washburne, the vast majority of his 1,800 employees make below $100,000 a year because they are "back of the house type employees."

"We can pay them for a while but if we start to bring people back online, I'm competing with unemployment which -- the $600 a week in additional payment that they got to their unemployment has been great up to this point but it goes through July 31st," he noted. "So, if we go to try to bring employees back online, we are competing with someone that is paying us -- being the U.S. government -- that's paying them much more than we are paying our industry and primarily all the retail across the board.

"So, my advice to the president has been: run this unemployment program on a monthly basis or a weekly basis," Washburne added. "Not all the way out to July 31st because it disincentivizes people for wanting to come back to work and I don't blame them. They are making a lot more money being on the unemployment lines than they are getting back into the business.

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"So, now that we are opening back up, we are out making calls trying to bring employees back that, frankly, is what I'm hearing from people across the country," he remarked.

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