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COVID-19 crisis: Tough decisions now for a strong return later

Interior photo of the newly renovated Left Bank restaurant in 2018. PHOTO/FILE –

 

As the owner of three businesses in diverse industries, including The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar in York, I have firsthand experience with how the global pandemic will challenge every leader in our community in ways we cannot even comprehend.

Owning a fine dining restaurant, we are on the frontlines of this health and economic crisis. We first felt the presence of COVID-19 in our community’s hospitality industry four weeks ago, as we started to see massive event and group reservation cancelations. It was our first glimpse into what other markets around the country started to experience just a few short weeks prior.

As responsible entrepreneurs, employing 60 staff across all companies, we regularly study industry data and historical information to forecast for our businesses. We’ve accepted that this is like nothing any of us could have planned to weather without making major adjustments. We proactively looked to China, as the first country to deal with the virus, to calculate our forecasts of a 12-24-week timeline. This health crisis will strain our financial markets and force gut-wrenching decisions.

While 12-24 weeks may seem extreme to some, we anticipate that this timeline is realistic – we hope it’s this short and not longer. In being responsible in how we care for our employees and companies today, we will ensure our strong return when this passes. As we continue to watch China, we are seeing glimmers of hope.

This virus moves at an astounding pace. In Seattle, the first case was confirmed on January 21. By March 12, 50 restaurants in Seattle made the decision to close. A few days later, government officials put a shelter-in-place mandate into effect. In other national markets, Governors are responsibly considering similar measures, while many businesses are irresponsibly ignoring their pleas for safe, proactive action.

As a business community, we must accept our duty to lead by putting safety first and implementing selfless actions to protect our communities rather than next week’s sales. Every business should be looking at how they can adjust, even temporarily close, their business in order for us to slow the spread of this virus.

I know how painful this is as the owner of a restaurant that does not have a work remote option. I also know how painful this is as the owner of Gavin, a boutique branding and communications agency, which just had a record year of growth and entered 2020 poised for a major advancement in our long-term plan for strategic expansion.

This is scary and it hurts. There’s simply no other way to say it. However, if we accept our greater responsibility as leaders in business and put public safety first, we will come out of this. If you manage your responsibility appropriately, you will build a stronger bond with your employees, clients and publics for making the safest decisions.

We proactively closed our restaurant on March 14 in advance of any government required closures. Protecting our employees and the financial health of the restaurant guided our decision so we may reopen when appropriate. As a team, we strategically decided not to offer to-go ordering and donated our perishable goods to seniors in need and our employees. We hoped to send the message that everyone should stay home to flatten the curve, even if it meant sacrificing our sales. We knew that if we led the way, we could hopefully help others make excruciating decisions earlier and let them know that we’re in this together.

For our other businesses, we started restricting teammates as early as March 8 from physically returning to the office after travel or if they were displaying any symptoms. We allowed them to work remote as we evaluated the situation. On March 15, we enforced a work remote policy across all staff. We also implemented our financial plan to brace for impact so that we could protect our employees, clients and the future of our business when the market returns.

Why am I sharing this? We are faced with a health and economic crisis like we have never seen in our lifetime and we must respond responsibly and accordingly, as servants and leaders. If we do not, it will upend our community with little to no chance of a quick recovery.

Many of us will be making very difficult decisions this week. How we respond as duty-bound business leaders will guide our community to be equally responsible. Please take this very seriously and plan for the future four months from now, not just next week’s sales.

Support each other and local businesses in their proactive decision-making during this crisis for the benefit and safety of our whole community.

Mandy Arnold –

Mandy Arnold is the CEO and president, Gavin, which is headquartered in York. She is also the co-owner of York’s The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar and partner in Madison and Main Development.

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