TV chef Guy Fieri is furious with members of Congress and lobbyists in Washington, D.C., whom he blames for failing to provide more help to the ill-faring American restaurant industry.
Speaking with New York Times reporter Kara Swisher on her podcast, "Sway," Fieri said he is "pissed" that bars and restaurants had to wait for the sixth COVID-19 relief bill to receive aid from the federal government while well-connected big businesses like the airline industry were targeted for immediate direct aid.
"I mean, I'm pissed. It's because there's not enough unification," Fieri said. "We all love each other in the restaurant business. We're all chefs together and so forth. But airlines have big powerful money and attorneys and lobbyists. And we've got home-built restaurant companies that were passed down from a restaurant, that were passed down from generations, with not as much energy and power and unification."
The Food Network host and self-proclaimed mayor of Flavortown has been a relentless advocate for struggling restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, he partnered with the National Restaurant Association to provide grants to restaurant workers in dire financial straits, raising over $25 million for people who may have lost their jobs or had reduced hours because of state-mandated coronavirus restrictions.
According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 8 million restaurant employees were laid off or furloughed and the industry lost $280 billion in sales during the first 13 months of the pandemic. An estimated 90,000 restaurants and bars temporarily or permanently closed last year, and these businesses are still facing difficulties complicated by worker shortages, supply issues with some foods, and high levels of demand they are not able to meet, leaving customers unsatisfied with their service. Overall, the industry is still down by about 1.5 million jobs from where it was in March 2020.
Business Insider reported that before March 2020, restaurants employed more than 13 million people nationwide, while the airline industry provided jobs for just under 600,000 people. But airlines got a $25 billion targeted bailout from Congress in mid-March, while restaurants had to wait a year for $28.6 billion in relief from President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan.
"The only advocacies we really have working for us are our state associations, like California Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association," Fieri said.
"And I think it has to do with anything we see in government and politics and so forth," he added. "It's loud voice, power, and money."
Though Fieri was critical of policymakers, he emphasized that it's the responsibility of individual Americans to stand up and make a difference when the system fails people in need.
"Listen, I'm a huge patriot. I love our country. I'm so proud that we get to have what we have. I don't think everybody appreciates it to the level that we should appreciate it. But I sure wish we could react quicker," he said. "I don't know. I'm not on that side of it. So I'm not going to point fingers. As opposed to sitting here running my mouth about it, I'm just going to go do something about it."
Swisher asked Fieri to weigh in on the controversy surrounding tech companies with food delivery apps cutting into restaurant profits with high delivery fees and whether he thinks the government should do more on behalf of restaurants.
"I hate regulations. I'm not a big fan of rules. I think that all of a sudden government jumps in and makes certain groups can't work together and all this kind of stuff," Fieri said, suggesting it would be better for a philanthropist to start a nonprofit food delivery service to help restaurants rather than have the government intervene.
If he were to speak to a lawmaker, "I'd say you put regulations on everybody for everything," he explained. "And forever, it's been impossible — especially in certain states, certain counties — impossible to get liquor delivered. When this all happened and things are blowing up and people are sinking, all of a sudden, people started figuring out, well, wait a second. ... We can do this."
While Fieri was encouraged by how some states lifted unnecessary regulations on the restaurant industry, like prohibitions on delivering alcohol, he wondered why the government hasn't gone further.
"How did that get done so quickly without anybody really having to go bang on doors about it? You know what it was — bunch of legislators, bunch of people that were in power, saying, wait a second. We do see that the restaurants are suffering. We do see that this need is there," Fieri said.
"But if we have the ability to move that quickly, let's continue."