Pioneering Engineer Leverages Success To Boost Minority Contractors

Pioneering Engineer Leverages Success To Boost Minority Contractors

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It all started because she wanted to claim her seat at the table.

Deryl McKissack had worked hard in the construction business for years but was always told to put her head down, work harder and not ask any questions.

When her new boss wanted to demote her simply because she was a woman, McKissack said, “I quit.”

With a thousand dollars and a business plan drafted using a book purchased at Barnes & Noble, she launched McKissack & McKissack.

“I just think it was my passion that got me through, and my determination of, I’m just not going to let anybody define me,” she said. “No one can stop me from getting the work that I’m supposed to get. And whatever I get, I’m going to make sure that we do a great job.”

McKissack, president and CEO of McKissack & McKissack, is one of the nation’s foremost African American female engineers. She leads an architectural, engineering, program and construction management firm that today oversees more than $15 billion in projects nationwide.

Some of the nation’s most stunning and significant architectural projects of the 21st century were designed, managed or built by McKissack & McKissack.

McKissack & McKissack has overseen renovations at Washington, D.C., landmarks such as the Lincoln, Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials — and they are just a small fraction of the company’s national footprint.

Under McKissack’s leadership, the company has worked in the energy, education, aviation, infrastructure, culture and commercial real estate sectors on noteworthy projects such as the O’Hare International Airport Modernization Program, the DC Waters Clean River Project and Nationals Park, the home stadium of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team.

The company is an outgrowth of the oldest minority-owned architecture/engineering firm in the United States. Its roots predate the Civil War, when a slave named Moses McKissack learned the building trade. It was his grandson, Moses III (Deryl McKissack’s great-great-grandfather), who launched the first McKissack & McKissack in Nashville, Tennessee.

Moses III, along with his brother Calvin, launched the first McKissack firm in Nashville, TN. He was the grandson of Moses McKissack, a slave who learned the trade of building from his owner and began a family legacy in the industry. (Courtesy of McKissack & McKissack)

Since launching the newer McKissack & McKissack 30 years ago, Deryl McKissack has grown her company to include more than 150 employees and offices in Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C.

But building the billion-dollar company in an industry dominated by white men wasn’t easy.

The Howard University alum recalls making a presentation at a university to a room full of men in one of her first attempts to gain business for the company in 1990.

When the presentation was done, the man in charge looked at McKissack and said, “Little lady, there is nothing that you can do for us.”

“I looked him in the eye, I grabbed his hand, and I was shaking it really hard, and I said, ‘Thank you so much for taking your time to listen to my presentation, and I look forward to working with you,’” McKissack said. “Then I went out on that campus for two hours and I just looked at every job I was going to be working on. I mean, I just walked through the campus and I started thanking God for the work that I was going to be doing on this campus. I believe in planting seeds.”

That seed sprang up about six months later.

The only African American man seated at the table on the fateful day of McKissack’s presentation was promoted to boss. Impressed with McKissack’s gracious response to the way she was treated, the new boss reached out to McKissack and offered her a small job worth $5,000. Within a year, McKissack had acquired $1 million worth of business with that university.

“I just never take no,” McKissack said. “I stare down the barrel of no so much, but I keep looking until I find my yes. I have won a lot of jobs at debriefings where they’re sitting there and telling me how I don’t add up, and then I get to tell them how I do.”

Even with her record of success, McKissack said she still encounters racism in the construction industry. She continues to experience “microaggressions,” which she explained as covert expressions from clients who, despite her expansive portfolio, continue to openly question her company’s ability to do the job.

“To be so successful [on previous projects] but yet get questioned over and over again on the next project — that’s what we’ve had to deal with,” McKissack said. “I’ve had to deal with it for 30 years now. … We’re achieving excellence, but at the same time you get slapped in the face every time you try to do something. There’s always resistance. There’s an undercurrent of, are you good enough? Or, can you do it? And extra questions. I’m still on calls that I’m in amazement on what I’m hearing.”

“I just hope that it gets better,” she said.

By the age of six, Deryl McKissack was drafting architectural drawings under her father’s tutelage. She later attended Howard University where she graduated with a B.S. in civil engineering. (Courtesy of McKissack & McKissack)

True to her character, McKissack is not one to just sit back and ignore these issues in the industry she loves; she’s addressing them head-on. She launched a 7-Step Plan to Confront Racism in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry.

Her plan calls for industry leaders to acknowledge that racism is a serious problem in the industry and commit to fixing it through actions such as hiring minority- and women-owned firms as prime contractors and procuring goods and services from minority- and women-owned suppliers.

Blacks are significantly underrepresented in architecture, engineering and construction.

African Americans make up 12.3 percent of the workforce but represent only 6.4 percent of construction workers and 6.1 percent of architecture and engineering professionals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By contrast, whites make up 78 percent of the total workforce but 84 percent of all architecture and engineering professionals.

McKissack said some companies have already adopted elements of her plan, but in 2021 she hopes to bring more of the industry’s major players on board.

“I’m going to be forming a group of companies that are huge companies that can really make a difference,” she said. “Because I know their CEOs really well, I’ve started small conversations with them, but we’re going to make it a little more formal in 2021.”

Keith Foxx has watched McKissack’s career over the past 20 years and believes her to be not only a visionary, but one of the industry’s foremost advocates for diversity.

As a program manager at RK&K, Foxx worked with McKissack on the D.C. Power Line Undergrounding program. When Foxx voiced his intention to start his own business, McKissack helped him secure his first government contract. Foxx is launching his engineering and construction management firm, FOXXSTEM, this month. He is grateful for McKissack’s support.

“Starting your own business, there are a lot of unknowns,” Foxx said. “She found a way to help me get my first contract. I will never forget that.”

Foxx said McKissack wields extraordinary influence in the industry.

“If she talks, everyone is listening, and she has the ears of some very important people,” Foxx said. “She’s legendary — a powerhouse and an icon — because she’s blazed a trail that I’m going to walk in.”

Beyond helping minority businesses get their foot in the door, McKissack helps them sustain success in the industry.

Christine Merdon, chief operating officer of McKissack & McKissack, said McKissack often speaks with pride about a minority contractor who was hired to work on the Washington D.C. Convention Center project managed by the firm.

“The contractor began the project with one truck, but by the time the project was over, he owned five trucks,” Merdon said. “When we bring minority- and women-owned firms on projects, it’s not only that they show up, but they are sustainable and have increased capacity.”

McKissack celebrated her company’s 30-year anniversary in 2020. That year the company received Inc. magazine’s 2020 Best in Business Award for its workforce diversity plan. Also in 2020, McKissack was elected to the National Academy of Construction. In bestowing the honor, the academy described her as “a visionary leader and entrepreneur with significant contributions in architecture, engineering, construction, and program management and a mentor to the next generation of industry leaders.”

She shows no signs of slowing down in 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a boon for McKissack’s area of the construction industry; clients have taken advantage of reduced traffic to launch school and infrastructure projects. McKissack’s company won bids for more than 40 projects, and more are expected.

She said her company is emerging from the challenges of 2020 even stronger. By slowing down, and spending less time traveling and more time interacting with employees, McKissack was able to see her business in a new light.

“I know now what we do good and what we do great,” McKissack said. “I know the people in the company, and what their strengths are, and I like to build on people’s strengths.”

Merdon said McKissack’s visionary leadership, political savvy and compassion for her employees has enabled the company to lead “mega projects” while also creating opportunities for minorities in the industry.

“Her leadership inspires people and draws really good people to the firm,” Merdon said. “Everybody has to work through tough days, but if you have a leader that believes in you, you can get it done.”

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)



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Latino Entrepreneur Is In The Business Of Helping Others Achieve Success

Latino Entrepreneur Is In The Business Of Helping Others Achieve Success

Arturo Adonay entered the business world from a young age in his native Mexico.

“Since I was a child, I have worked in all sorts of businesses. I have sold gold, body creams and clothes. I have had taquerías, pizzerias, as well as advertising and marketing agencies. I have also been in distribution,” said Adonay, who is currently a managing partner of Sara Capital Group.

After 23 years of living in the U.S., Adonay has become a renowned entrepreneur in the Southeast. His love for doing business has led him to discover another passion — helping other entrepreneurs.

“I consider myself a facilitator, a bridge for our community and our people. I like to take them by the hand while they create a sustainable business. I love that. That’s my passion,” said Adonay.

Adonay considers himself a natural businessman. He is one of the masterminds behind the idea of commercial plazas for Hispanics. Plaza Fiesta and Plaza de las Américas, in Atlanta’s metropolitan area, and Plaza del Sol, in Kissimmee, Florida, are examples of his creative endeavors.

Adonay wanted to build shopping plazas similar to those in Latin America and Europe, where large and small businesses converge, “dedicating a part of the shopping center to promoting small businesses,” he said. He had done something similar in Mexico and was lucky enough to meet people in the U.S. who agreed with his vision. Together, they made “the magic happen. It was a blessing, luck; you name it.”

After living more than two decades in the U.S., Adonay has seen many success stories highlighting Latinos’ “magic and creativity.” But he is aware that Latino businesses often follow a particular path.

“Americans are very structured. They make a business plan in advance, project more and give the company some time to grow. If in that span the business doesn’t grow, they close it up saying, ‘It didn’t work, what’s next,’” said the businessman.

 

He has successfully set up Latin-themed strip malls in several U.S. cities. (Negocios Now)

Latinos are different.

They “often jump into the pool without knowing how to swim. They usually don’t know what they’re doing. However, through thick and thin, they learn to swim while trying to survive. When they see that the business is sinking, magic, creativity and family support come through, which is something I don’t see among other ethnicities.”

In times of crisis, “the whole family rolls up their sleeves and says, we have invested here, now we have to keep the business afloat, whatever it takes.” At this point, an exciting transformation happens from the business and community perspectives, he said.

“What we — and all the small entrepreneurs — are facing is unprecedented,” said Adonay, referring to the pandemic.

He believes companies must reinvent themselves, for example, doing business online. However, “not all businesses are prepared to do it. That is where we, as leaders, have to work with them, looking for alternatives, such as new distribution channels,” he said.

Common mistakes in challenging times

Being afraid of what the future might bring is a big mistake. “When you start focusing on the catastrophe before there is a catastrophe.” An entrepreneur cannot be afraid of what will happen tomorrow,” Adonay said.

Not seeing an opportunity is another mistake. In challenging times “businesses succeed if you are creative. When things are going down, you can dive in and rise with the wave. Sometimes, in times of crisis, small businesses come to a standstill rather than proactively looking for ways to grow the business,” he said.

A big mistake is not being austere in personal expenses. There are people who, in challenging times, “still have cable television with 300 channels and make unnecessary expenses. Instead, you have to tighten your belt, lower your spending and set money aside to continue supporting your business. Eventually, it’ll give you a monthly profit,” he said.

Not reinventing yourself is a mistake, too. “Wherever there is a challenge, there is an opportunity. But you have to look for it proactively,” he said.

Tips for those seeking to become entrepreneurs 

“Businesses start from the inside out.” First, you have to organize the family or personal economy, he said. “Set aside some money and invest it [in the company] hoping for a return. Keep your personal budget straight to continue investing your extra money in your business, so you can support and fuel it. Little by little, it will give you a return. … Eventually, that return will allow you to live the lifestyle you had when you started. If you can’t handle your finances, you can’t run a business,” he said.

Passion is important. His advice is to open a business dealing with those things one cares about most. “If you know how to paint, create a business where you teach painting classes and sell painting supplies,” he said.

Do not be afraid of banks. “There is the fear of asking for a loan, often because of the language barrier,” he said.

Arturo Adonay, un hombre de negocios cuya pasión es ayudar a otros was first published in Negocios Now

 

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel.)

 



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Distribution Deals Bring Black-Owned Whiskey Brand ‘Guidance’ to Store Shelves in 5 States

Distribution Deals Bring Black-Owned Whiskey Brand ‘Guidance’ to Store Shelves in 5 States

NASHVILLE—Black-owned brands are suddenly in demand, and serial entrepreneur Jason Ridgel is in high spirits after sales of Guidance, a whiskey brand he owns, skyrocketed in recent months.

Guidance is making a name for itself as one of the few black-owned premium craft small-batch whiskey brands available for purchase online and in stores in Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and California. It’s part of a growing black-owned spirits movement.

Since launching in 2018, Guidance Whiskey has made its product available for purchase online in 43 states. The company recently inked a deal with Kentucky-based distributor Legacy Wine and Spirits, which helped expand its availability in stores to 50 retail locations in five states.

Ridgel said the deal is historic because it marks a rare partnership between a black-owned whiskey brand and a black-owned whiskey distributor.

“I was told ‘no’ by a bunch of distributors,” said Ridgel, who developed his product with the idea of appealing to the unique taste preferences of African Americans. “They told us that would never sell because the market was saturated and there are tens of thousands of spirits.”

Jason Ridgel, founder of Guidance Whiskey (Zachary Staben/Zenger)

Based in Nashville, Tennesse, near the Jack Daniel’s whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Guidance received its big break in June 2020 when it partnered with black-owned distributor Legacy Wine and Spirits. The partnership expanded Guidance’s distribution to 10 stores in Kentucky.

Ridgel’s success is part of an up and coming black-owned spirits movement. There are dozens of black-owned liquor brands in the U.S. but many have yet to gain entry into the mainstream. They are often shut out of the distribution deals needed to place them on store shelves.

In June, the Jack Daniel’s Distillery and the Nearest Green Distillery announced the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative to increase diversity within the American whiskey industry.

Both companies are supporting the initiative equally with a combined pledge of $5 million to help create the Nearest Green School of Distilling, develop the Leadership Acceleration Program for apprenticeships, and create a Business Incubation Program focused on providing expertise and resources to African Americans entering the spirits industry as entrepreneurs.

Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey honors the first known black master distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green. The Nearest Green School of Distilling at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, Tennessee is awaiting approval from the Tennessee Board of Regents. They could begin classes as early as fall 2021, according to the company.

Legacy Wine and Spirits owners Kelvin Young Sr. and DJuan Ditto say they want their platform as black-owned distributors to be a gateway for up and coming brands.

“Once we met with Jason and actually had a conversation about his vision for Guidance and the whole black-owned spirits movement, we knew that we definitely wanted to play a part in that and also be a distribution partner for Guidance,” Young said.

Nathan “Nearest” Green’s son, George (3rd L), sits next to Jack Daniel at the Lynchburg Distillery. (historic photo)

Ridgel said he created Guidance Whiskey to offer customers a different taste, which he describes as “no heat.”

“I wanted to change it to fit our pallet,” said Ridgel.  “Black people always have a different take on things. The spirit industry has been missing that creativity that comes from our people. You see it in the music industry, in the arts and in sales, but in liquor, we don’t have a lane.”

A graduate of Tennessee State University, Ridgel is a serial entrepreneur who started his first business at age 23. He has launched companies in the janitorial industry and medical equipment sales. He became interested in whiskey after seeing an opportunity to change the perception of what it means to be a Tennessee whiskey.

Ridgel chose the name Guidance, defined as “infinite wisdom that enables excellence,” as a reference to ancestors who pass down treasures throughout the generations.

“Our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles pour into us. Nothing that we create now would be possible without them, so Guidance seemed like the perfect name,” Ridgel said.

Ridgel funded the launch of Guidance using his own money.His first steps were finding a distillery partner and a signature taste.

Comprised of 88% corn, 10% rye and 2% malted barley, Guidance is made at a distillery in Iowa and aged for 24 months. Guidance’s website describes its taste profile as “dominated by smooth front-end vanilla with a light and smooth experience in the middle” followed by a “long, smokey finish.”

Ridgel describes Guidance as “love in a bottle.”

Legacy Wine and Spirits owners (L to R) DJuan Ditto, Kelvin Young Sr., with Guidance owner Jason Ridgel, and Robert Jobe (Deja Downy/Zenger)

“When you start with liquor it’s hard to figure out what you like but you know what you don’t like,” said Ridgel. He used to go out with friends who would buy him a shot of whiskey, which he would pretend that he liked. “Really my mouth would be on fire,” Ridgel said of the experiences that led him to create his signature taste.

While Guidance is available for purchase on its website for $64.99 per bottle, Ridgel said an important part of his strategy to grow the brand is to have it available in restaurants, bars and private clubs where customers can buy it by the glass. Guidance partnered with Nashville-based DET Distributing Company for sales in Nashville-area restaurants in 2019.

Future plans for Ridgel include mentoring other entrepreneurs and establishing Guidance as a brand that will last for years to come. Online sales of Guidance doubled in the months of May, June and July 2020, and Ridgel is focused on working to ensure that his brand will survive beyond the recently renewed interest in black-owned businesses.

“We are in the game of respect,” Ridgel said. “If we become a respected brand it makes it easier for us to help other brands. There is more recognition and support of black-owned businesses right now; we want to keep it that way.”

(Edited by Ganesh Lakshman and KC Morgan)



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Indian Restaurants Cook Up DIY Food Kits

Indian Restaurants Cook Up DIY Food Kits

Indians — especially from big cities like New Delhi or Mumbai — love eating out. But with a nationwide lockdown still in place in many sectors, it is not an option. Even home deliveries aren’t viable. Delivery agents have caused panic and mandatory quarantine.

So some restaurants have whipped up a delicious alternative.

To keep their patrons happy — and businesses running — restaurants are now sending food, not as fully cooked meals, but Do It Yourself, or DIY kits. The kits have detailed instructions and perfectly proportioned ingredients.

 

Food lovers just follow directions and have the meal they desire.

“At first I thought it was weird — why slog in the kitchen when you can order in?” said Nausheen Tareen, 35, a New Delhi-based public relations professional. Tareen and her husband, Amin Ali, ate out at least two or three times a week before the pandemic, patronizing both fine dining in Delhi and traditional small eateries in the capital’s historic Walled City.

“When you do it, you see it is so much fun!” said Tareen, now a convert to DIY meals. She is the rule rather than the exception among young, urban Indians. They are the mainstay of the country’s vibrant culinary culture.

The lockdown began March 24 and hit the restaurant business hard.

In 2019, India had about 2 million restaurants employing 7.3 million people, according to the National Restaurants Association of India’s Food Services Report. They generated revenues of $56 billion. But since the pandemic began, many restaurants in places such as New Delhi’s Khan Market — one of the most expensive real-estate locations in the world — have closed.

“With restaurants shut for more than five months, the sector has lost about $25 billion,” said Anurag Katriar, president of the association. “About 3 million people have lost their jobs.”

The CEO and executive director of private restaurant chain deGustibus Hospitality, Katriar said 30 percent to 35 percent of restaurants will never open again.

“Half of a restaurant’s expenses are overheads — rent, wages, taxes,” he said. “How can you earn nothing and keep paying these?”

People staying away from restaurants are not ordering in, either, Katriar said. “We are getting only a third of the orders we used to get.”

Food-delivery industry leader Zomato painted a similar picture in its State of Indian Restaurant Industry report. Some 10% of India’s restaurants have permanently shut, and another 30% may never reopen.

Tough times have forced businesses to innovate — the DIY kits are one example.

Kampai, which serves Japanese cuisine, is one of the restaurants in New Delhi that has offered the DIY kit to its patrons since June. On the menu: ramen, donburis, cocktail kits.

“The response has been good,” said Avantika Sinha, founder, and managing director.

The quarantine has seriously impacted the industry, but it’s also provided inspiration.

“The popularity of #quarantinecooking inspired us,” said Priyank Sukhija, MD and CEO of First Fiddle F&B, a private restaurant chain. The hashtag went viral on social media, with people posting pictures of what they were cooking while stuck at home.

Sukhija started the DIY kits at his Asian restaurant, Plum by Bent Chair, in July. “The concept was long overdue,” he said. “It is here to stay. Our kits are a careful selection of bowls, pots, gravies, entrees along with gyozas that can be easily cooked and enjoyed at home,” said Sukhija.

Such kits were already popular in New York and London pre-pandemmic — but new to India. And while they generate sales, restaurants are curating only the best options on their menus.

Restaurant owners in Delhi are also looking to the government for help.

“In the UK, the government is subsidizing eating out,” said Katriar. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme gives a 50% discount to anyone eating or drinking at a UK restaurant from Monday to Wednesday, up to a maximum bill of £10, about $13.

“This scheme will have a positive effect on other sectors, such as labor, agriculture, dairy and transport,” said Katriar.

In Delhi, restaurants have been allowed to operate at half the capacity since last month. But they claim an added financial struggle: No green light to serve liquor. Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia on August 20 asked the excise department to allow restaurants to serve liquor at tables, though bars will remain closed.

“This will be a great help to the industry,” said Zorawar Kalra, founder, Massive Restaurants, which owns popular eateries such as Bo-Tai and Made in Punjab.

“Sales are at 10% to 15% of pre-Covid levels now. Allowing liquor to be served will attract more eaters. Dinner revenue will increase,” he said.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Fern Siegel.)



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Traditional Irish Pubs Face Ruin Under Lengthened Lockdown

Traditional Irish Pubs Face Ruin Under Lengthened Lockdown

Ireland’s government won’t be reopening the country as planned, and many small pub owners say the delay will cost them their businesses.

While non-essential retail shops have been trading for weeks, small pubs are still closed due to coronavirus restrictions. More than 3,500 pubs – almost half of Ireland’s 7,000-plus pubs – are thought to be affected by the delay, according to the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, which represents pubs outside the capital, Dublin.

The country’s prime minister, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, announced that pubs would not be allowed to open on Aug. 10 as planned. The move came as a blow to thousands of publicans around the country with many fearing they might be unable to reopen at all. This was the second time the Irish government has delayed Phase 4 of its reopening plan amid concerns over outbreaks.

Pubs that can operate as restaurants serving customers a “substantial meal” costing at least €9, roughly $10.86, have been allowed to open since June 19. However, concerns about social distancing in so-called “wet pubs” have delayed full reopening.

Widespread closures came on March 15, days after the government closed schools and colleges and two days before St Patrick’s Day – Ireland’s national holiday and one of the busiest days for publicans. Now, five months later, many of these publicans face an uncertain future.

As well as the economic impact and an estimated 22,000 jobs at risk, according to a report by economist Anthony Foley, many critics of the delay say that the shutdown is harming rural communities across Ireland where many customers have been left without a social outlet.

Zenger News spoke to Ciaran Corcoran, owner of An Nead, one of two pubs in the village of Spiddal in county Galway. Ciaran, who closed his pub and adjoining coffee shop, Time Am Tae, in March, spent around €2,000, roughly $2,373, on safety measures and a pizza oven ahead of reopening on Aug. 12. The business has also had to hire extra service staff.

Ciaran described the costs as “astronomical. The banks do not support businesses like ours, so we have no option but to open again and build up a cashflow. Opening with social distancing measures in place will not be viable, but we have to start trading again to pay staff and keep the business going.”

He believes that publicans have been treated unfairly. “Other businesses have been able to trade as long as they can stick to the rules. Pubs should be allowed to open if they can do so safely.”

He also spoke about the impact the closures have had on many of his regular customers: “For many of our elderly customers, our pub is the only place to socialize. Many live on their own and only get to have a chat when they come in here.”

A spokesperson for Licensed Vintners Association, which represents pubs in the greater Dublin area, told Zenger that Irish publicans had prioritized public health from the start of the pandemic with some pubs closing before the official government lockdown in March.

If pubs stay closed until the end of October as expected, the spokesperson said that publicans will have lost 46 percent of the year’s trading. “That is not sustainable for anyone.”

He pointed out that while many publicans have spent thousands of euro getting their premises Covid-19 ready, the recent postponement has come without a roadmap for safe reopening or adequate financial support. He added that a stimulus package announced in July offered little for publicans.

He warned that the sector is facing a crisis. “In Dublin alone, 2,400 jobs have been lost permanently, and 11 pubs will remain closed even when the restrictions are no longer in place.”

 

Two men socialize inside a pub. (An Nead/Zenger)

Éamon Ó Cuív – a member of parliament representing Galway West – told Zenger that although he felt great empathy with publicans, public health had to be the priority and maintaining Covid-19 measures was very difficult in the traditional setting of an Irish pub: “Whereas in restaurants, people sit down for an hour and a half, people in pubs move around, and that makes social distancing very difficult.”

“Some small, quiet rural pubs may have been able to open safely. However, selecting pubs and grouping them is impossible. Where I live, you may have a small pub that is normally quiet just a few hundred yards away from a pub in a scenic spot that draws large crowds, especially this time of year.”

Ó Cuív, a former Cabinet minister, said the government’s decision was made with “huge reluctance.” However, he conceded that it has a responsibility to ensure the survival of rural pubs because of their vital role in communities.

Declan Ganley, an entrepreneur and political activist who lives in Abbeyknockmoy, a rural village in county Galway, told Zenger News that the postponement means some pubs may never reopen. Ganley, a former presidential candidate, said the local pub is a “key center of community in Ireland.”

Struggling rural pubs have been hit hard, he said, adding that the closures have exacted a toll on mental health. “My view is that we have to make trade-offs with how we manage risk, and we also have to respect people’s right to make their own decisions as far as going for a pint, or not.”

He said that he trusts pub owners to minimize the risks. “The mission to suppress Covid-19 has always been to ‘flatten the curve.’ ” He said that while that goal seems to be met, he expressed doubt that the virus would be eradicted in the near future.

“In the meantime, life must go on, and in much of Ireland, the local pub is part of life. Open them, let them mitigate risk as best they can, and let’s see where that gets us.”

(Edited by Ruth Doris and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)



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Small Irish Pubs Face Extinction Under Lockdown Extensions

Small Irish Pubs Face Extinction Under Lockdown Extensions

Ireland’s government won’t be reopening the country as planned, and many small pub owners say the delay will cost them their businesses.

While non-essential retail shops have been trading for weeks, small pubs are still closed due to coronavirus restrictions. More than 3,500 pubs – almost half of Ireland’s 7,000-plus pubs – are thought to be affected by the delay, according to the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, which represents pubs outside the capital, Dublin.

The country’s prime minister, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, announced that pubs would not be allowed to open on Aug. 10 as planned. The move came as a blow to thousands of publicans around the country with many fearing they might be unable to reopen at all. This was the second time the Irish government has delayed Phase 4 of its reopening plan amid concerns over outbreaks.

Pubs that can operate as restaurants serving customers a “substantial meal” costing at least €9, roughly $10.86, have been allowed to open since June 19. However, concerns about social distancing in so-called “wet pubs” have delayed full reopening.

Widespread closures came on March 15, days after the government closed schools and colleges and two days before St Patrick’s Day – Ireland’s national holiday and one of the busiest days for publicans. Now, five months later, many of these publicans face an uncertain future.

As well as the economic impact and an estimated 22,000 jobs at risk, according to a report by economist Anthony Foley, many critics of the delay say that the shutdown is harming rural communities across Ireland where many customers have been left without a social outlet.

Zenger News spoke to Ciaran Corcoran, owner of An Nead, one of two pubs in the village of Spiddal in county Galway. Ciaran, who closed his pub and adjoining coffee shop, Time Am Tae, in March, spent around €2,000, roughly $2,373, on safety measures and a pizza oven ahead of reopening on Aug. 12. The business has also had to hire extra service staff.

Ciaran described the costs as “astronomical. The banks do not support businesses like ours, so we have no option but to open again and build up a cashflow. Opening with social distancing measures in place will not be viable, but we have to start trading again to pay staff and keep the business going.”

He believes that publicans have been treated unfairly. “Other businesses have been able to trade as long as they can stick to the rules. Pubs should be allowed to open if they can do so safely.”

He also spoke about the impact the closures have had on many of his regular customers: “For many of our elderly customers, our pub is the only place to socialize. Many live on their own and only get to have a chat when they come in here.”

A spokesperson for Licensed Vintners Association, which represents pubs in the greater Dublin area, told Zenger that Irish publicans had prioritized public health from the start of the pandemic with some pubs closing before the official government lockdown in March.

If pubs stay closed until the end of October as expected, the spokesperson said that publicans will have lost 46 percent of the year’s trading. “That is not sustainable for anyone.”

He pointed out that while many publicans have spent thousands of euro getting their premises Covid-19 ready, the recent postponement has come without a roadmap for safe reopening or adequate financial support. He added that a stimulus package announced in July offered little for publicans.

He warned that the sector is facing a crisis. “In Dublin alone, 2,400 jobs have been lost permanently, and 11 pubs will remain closed even when the restrictions are no longer in place.”

 

Two men socialize inside a pub. (An Nead/Zenger)

Éamon Ó Cuív – a member of parliament representing Galway West – told Zenger that although he felt great empathy with publicans, public health had to be the priority and maintaining Covid-19 measures was very difficult in the traditional setting of an Irish pub: “Whereas in restaurants, people sit down for an hour and a half, people in pubs move around, and that makes social distancing very difficult.”

“Some small, quiet rural pubs may have been able to open safely. However, selecting pubs and grouping them is impossible. Where I live, you may have a small pub that is normally quiet just a few hundred yards away from a pub in a scenic spot that draws large crowds, especially this time of year.”

Ó Cuív, a former Cabinet minister, said the government’s decision was made with “huge reluctance.” However, he conceded that it has a responsibility to ensure the survival of rural pubs because of their vital role in communities.

Declan Ganley, an entrepreneur and political activist who lives in Abbeyknockmoy, a rural village in county Galway, told Zenger News that the postponement means some pubs may never reopen. Ganley, a former presidential candidate, said the local pub is a “key center of community in Ireland.”

Struggling rural pubs have been hit hard, he said, adding that the closures have exacted a toll on mental health. “My view is that we have to make trade-offs with how we manage risk, and we also have to respect people’s right to make their own decisions as far as going for a pint, or not.”

He said that he trusts pub owners to minimize the risks. “The mission to suppress Covid-19 has always been to ‘flatten the curve.’ ” He said that while that goal seems to be met, he expressed doubt that the virus would be eradicted in the near future.

“In the meantime, life must go on, and in much of Ireland, the local pub is part of life. Open them, let them mitigate risk as best they can, and let’s see where that gets us.”

(Edited by Ruth Doris and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)



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