May 22, 2020
Mike Pence Roundtable Meeting with Georgia Restaurant Owners & Brian Kemp
Mike Pence held a roundtable with Georgia restaurant owners and Governor Brian Kemp. Read the transcript of their meeting here.
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Walter G. Ehmer: (00:00)
The business was started about 65 years ago by two friends and neighbors, and Joe Senior’s grandchildren, Joe Rogers the third and Lee Rogers are here in the audience with us today. They helped lead the business for the third generation, so on behalf of our people business, we’re very glad that you’re here.
Walter G. Ehmer: (00:20)
Uniquely, our business is 100% employee owned and operated. And while many people think of us as a chain, in large part, we are really an independent business, a family run business that’s owned and operated by the people in the business, and the communities in which our restaurants are, our customers wouldn’t think of us as a chain. They think of us as their Waffle House, and their restaurant associates that take care of them. So it’s an honor to have Secretary of Labor here as well. We as a business know who we are, we serve people. That’s our purpose in life is we serve people, and our workers and our associates collectively around this table, we’re essential workers, but they’re also heroes to us and to the many people in the communities that they take care of every day.
Walter G. Ehmer: (01:15)
Mr. Vice President, thank you again for being here. I know there’s probably very little confusion up in Washington DC about this topic, but down here in the South there’s great confusion. When people see the letters WH down here in the South they think Waffle House. And I know that’s not a problem in DC, but just for you, and you can share these with the President as well, we have a lot WH ties [inaudible 00:01:54], and we won’t file a lawsuit for trademark infringement. We’re thankful to share the same letters. But I appreciate your willingness to be here to discuss how best to reopen restaurants in our country.
Walter G. Ehmer: (02:12)
When this crisis hit, our revenues, Waffle House’s revenues dropped almost 80% within two weeks. The restaurant industry is the second largest employer of people in this country, and no other industry was more directly impacted in terms of job loss and revenue loss than the restaurant industry. It was so devastating to our business and my friends business around the table that we simply didn’t have the resources to take care of our own people, and that is a devastating feeling to have. So on behalf of all of us that love our associates, I just want to thank you, thank the government for being there for our people with the Cares Act. You literally saved people’s lives by helping them when we couldn’t help them, and we thank you for that and [inaudible 00:03:09].
Walter G. Ehmer: (03:09)
We’re very grateful for that. I know the PPP, there’s several folks around the table who have benefited from that. I know hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the country are staying alive as a result of that program. And again, thank you so much for being here. I just wanted to see if you had any comments from the group.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (03:34)
Well, thank you so much for having us today. I really appreciate Waffle House opening their headquarters up for hosting this event. We’re certainly honored to have the Vice President back in the great State of Georgia along with the congressional delegation, Senator Loeffler and our first lady, Marty Kemp is here as well. Also, Secretary Scalia, and just really appreciate the opportunity to talk a little bit about the reopening of Georgia and Vice President and I talked at lunch. I told Walt upstairs, they asked the Vice President what he wanted for lunch. He said, “Meatloaf.” They asked me, I said, “Waffle House.”
Gov. Brian Kemp: (04:18)
But we had a great lunch and we just appreciate really the help and the feedback that we’ve gotten from the private sector of helping us write guidelines that will allow us to safely reopen our businesses, get people back to work. We worked with Karen Bremer and the Restaurant Association, we’ve talked to companies like Waffle House that are fairly large, and then we’ve talked to other smaller operators to try to come up with guidelines that people could live with and would work and keep people safe. I just appreciate all of your input, but also very thankful for how hard working Georgians out there have been following the guidance that the President and the Vice President have been talking about. And the National Task Force is working. As we reopen, we have to continue to do two things: we’ve got to reopen safely and put people back to work, but we got to also keep following the guidelines so we can keep driving the numbers down, which we’ve got some of the best numbers that we’ve seen to date today in Georgia. I was talking to the Vice President about that.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (05:22)
But last, I just want to thank the Trump administration and the President and the Vice President. The level of communication that they have had with the nation’s governors on the bipartisan support on PPE supplies, on medicines, like we’ve received two shipments of Remdesivir, the discussions that we continue to have on issues that are going on at the federal level, whether it’s legislation, treatments, timeframes, just the dialogue we’ve had been unprecedented in my point of view, and I just really appreciate the President and Vice President Pence for that. We’re honored to have you in Georgia, so welcome.
Mike Pence: (06:07)
Thank you, Brian. Thank you. [inaudible 00:06:07]
Walter G. Ehmer: (06:07)
I didn’t want to go without thanking you, Governor Kemp. We appreciate as business people the opportunity you’ve given us to try to get our businesses back up and running so we can take care of our people and take care of our customers. You had the courage to lead our state out of a lockdown, and you not only led our state, but you led our country, because all the other governors have followed your lead, and we appreciate having the opportunity to do what we do best, which is take care of people. And our sales since that’s happened have recovered almost 70% from the down trend [inaudible 00:06:44]. Much more importantly, Governor Kemp, we’ve had the chance to rehire 2000 Georgians back to work over this period of time. The last thing I want to say, and I’ll let my friends speak after we hear from Vice President, is you’ll be pleased with what we see in our restaurants. What I know about these gentlemen and ladies, the ladies that are here with us today, is they work in their restaurants every day. I know some of them personally. I see them in the restaurants every day. We work in our restaurants every day. You’d be proud of the citizens of your state, and for that matter, Mr. Vice-President, the country for following the guidelines and doing the things they need to do to stay safe. So thank you for the opportunity. Again, we appreciate you being here as well.
Mike Pence: (07:45)
Thank you very much, Walt. Great work. Very good news. Well, thank you very much, Walt. I want to thank you. I want to thank the entire Waffle House team for the hospitality. I also want to thank you for the way that you have helped inform policy at the federal level. We were pleased to have you with the White House not long ago. And also the efforts at Waffle House made to continue to be there with the Adopt-A-Meal program for customers to donate, send meals to local doctors, nurses, and first responders. You used a food truck originally built to serve victims of hurricane Katrina. As the Governor knows, you provided hot meals to frontline workers at local Atlanta hospitals. I have been a Waffle House regular all my life. But I have to tell you, I know the people at Georgia, people across the country impacted by the Coronavirus are grateful for Waffle House and all of your employees and associates, the way you’ve continued to be there for families and communities across this nation. I want to thank you for your leadership. It means a great deal, Walt.
Mike Pence: (08:58)
I also want to say it’s good to be in Georgia again, and good to be alongside your Governor and first lady. We just went out to lunch and had a great meal, and we were able to do that because of what people Georgia have done. It’s remarkable for me to think, from the time of President Trump in January of this year made the decision to suspend all travel in China before there was a single case of community transmission in this country. He set up the White House Coronavirus task force. We went to work over the course of February to stand up our national response. We restricted travel from other countries around the world.
Mike Pence: (09:45)
When he asked me to step in and lead the White House Coronavirus taskforce in late February, we literally had less than 15 cases in the country. We had 45 other cases of people that have been brought back. And let me say again, a tribute to the man sitting to my right, many of which came to Dobbins Air Force base, and Dobbins Air Force base did a phenomenal job bringing Americans home and working through the quarantining process. But it was in those early days of March that we saw the trend lines beginning to move.
Mike Pence: (10:23)
Our task force went to the President, made the recommendation. We asked a lot of the American people. 15 days to slow the spread would become 45 days, but the people of Georgia and the people of America responded. And as I sit here today, cases are declining all over America, including this great state. Hospitalizations are declining. As Dr. Birx just confirmed at the press conference in the White House a few short minutes ago, most importantly, fatalities are declining all across America. Truth is, because of what the people of Georgia have done, we have [inaudible 00:11:01] we’ve saved lives.
Mike Pence: (11:06)
We’ve saved lives. It’s a tribute to each and every one of you. And on behalf of your President, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I just want to thank you for the sacrifices that all of you have made. It’s been inspiring for me in the role the President asked me to play to watch the American people consider others more important than themselves, more important than their livelihoods, and made the necessary sacrifices, and they saved lives.
Mike Pence: (11:35)
Because of what you’ve done, we’re now in a position to open up in America again. And in that respect, Georgia is leading the way. Truth is that this state, with the direction that we gave after we gave 45 days to slow the spread, but before that period even ended President directed us to issue guidelines to open up America again. We worked closely with governors all across the country to make that a reality. And I have to tell you, President Trump and I couldn’t be more proud of or more grateful for the clear, courageous, and principled leadership of Governor Brian Kemp.
Mike Pence: (12:22)
What your governor and his great first lady and his great health care team recognize is that this really isn’t a choice between the health of our citizens and a growing economy. It’s a choice between health and health, because a growing economy, as you’re beginning to see comeback here in Georgia, contributes to the physical and emotional wellbeing of the American people. There are real costs for the lockdowns that we all had to go through. And that’s why, Governor, we’re also grateful that Georgia was willing to lead, among other States. But I’m pleased to report that what you began weeks ago here in Georgia, now all 50 States have begun to re open their economies.
Mike Pence: (13:24)
As I said, it’s because of what all of you are willing to do as individuals, as families, great businesses that came alongside your associates and your customers. But I also want to give credit where credit is due. When the President asked me to do this, he said, “Well, I want a whole of government approach,” and by that, it was clear to me that he wanted to not only us to marshal all the resources of the federal government, but to have a full partnership with governors in all 50 States, and in our territories. We’ve done that on a strong and bipartisan basis.
Mike Pence: (13:57)
But it’s also been a result of a strong partnership with leaders in Congress. I must tell you that the leadership representing Georgia in Congress was there every step of the way. In one bill after another, we were able to focus resources at the point of the need. Initially making testing available, making paid leave available, then making direct support to families available.
Mike Pence: (14:23)
Paycheck protection program, that I think was utilized by a number of Waffle House operators across the country and my business that I stopped in today, made it possible for people to be able to stay on the payroll even while their business was closed. The Cares Act, Walt, that you referenced, was a result of President Trump’s leadership, but it was a result of the strong efforts of members of Congress. And a number of them are with us today, and I’d like you to join me in thanking Congressman Rick Allen, who is with us today. Congressman Allen, thank you for your great work.
Mike Pence: (15:00)
Your great work. I also want to thank a standout in the House of Representatives and a great friend, Congressman Doug Collins. Thank you so much for your work for Georgia. Senator David Perdue could not be with us. I’m told he was a little bit under the weather, but doing fine, and sends his regards. I also want to thank Senator Kelly Loeffler. Thank you for your strong leadership in the United States Senate for Georgia in the midst of this pandemic.
Mike Pence: (15:37)
We’re here to talk about opening up Georgia again. I want you to know that your president, this vice president, and our entire team at the federal level… There’s not a day goes by that we don’t think about the heartbreak that’s come to families here in Georgia and across the country. More than 95,000 Americans lost, families shattered. I want to say from my heart, our prayers, our condolences are with all the families that have lost loved ones here in Georgia. Last night, President Trump directed that all flags be at half-staff through May the 24th. Just on this weekend, when on Monday, we will remember those who served in uniform and fell. Today and in the next several days, we’ll also pause to remember those we’ve lost. I hope their families know that they’re on the hearts of every American.
Mike Pence: (16:38)
President said it many times that one life lost is too many. I want to assure all of you that I know in my heart of hearts, and because of what you’ve done here, we’ve saved lives. As people continue to practice common sense, good hygiene, social distancing, as you reopen Georgia, I know that that will continue to be true. In fact, it’s about reopening that I came here today. I’m anxious, Walt, to hear from these great business leaders that we’ve assembled. It’s remarkable to think that… I think it was on April 24th, governor, that you issued an executive order, creating guidelines, drawing from the federal guidelines to open up America again. You gave guidance to Georgia’s business to open up, gave them protocols to do so safely and responsibly. As I saw in Florida a few days ago, and I’m seeing here in Georgia today, people are stepping up, and they’re doing what needs to be done. I want to thank all of the businesses, retail, and restaurants that are doing that.
Mike Pence: (17:45)
I do want to say, particularly, that, Walt, we understand, and you remember being at the White House, that I think one out of four of the jobs that were lost in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic were at restaurants around the country. Good hardworking Americans that are a part of the fabric of your communities, having to set your livelihoods aside… I want you to know, as we continue to work with Congress to fashion additional support, that we’re going to be thinking of those most impacted. We’re going to get through this. Mr. President’s made clear, we’re going to do whatever needs to be done to get American families and American businesses through this. I want you all to be encouraged today with the word that we are getting through it. The truth is I’ll end my comments just by saying, I hope as we mourn with those who mourn and grieve with those who grieve that we still recognize the sacrifices, governor, the people of Georgia have made and businesses represented here have made, have put us in a position where not only could we begin to reopen the country, but we can also acknowledge that what we’ve done has made a difference. It’s made a difference for families that have not lost loved ones. I want to express my great undying respect that each and every one of you here for the world, each one of you play because cases… Even though testing is rapidly increasing across the country, including here in Georgia, at the governor’s leadership, while we’re increasing testing, Walt, cases are going down. Cases are going down around the country. Hospitalizations are going down. Our losses are declining.
Mike Pence: (19:33)
Every single day, we’re one day closer to the day that we can say we put the coronavirus in the past. When we do that, it will be a credit, I believe, to a president who had not only a whole government approach, but a whole of America approach. We accredit the great state leaders who stepped forward, like Governor Kemp and his administration. I don’t think either one of them would mind me saying it’s mostly a credit to our incredible healthcare workers and to all of the businesses across this country. Step forward and let the moment. With that, let me just say thank you, again, for the honor of being with you today, to be here at Waffle House, to be at the real WH.
Thank you for your help.
Mike Pence: (20:31)
Thank you for all that you’ve done. Walt, I’ll turn it back over to you. I’m anxious to hear from all these great businesses.
All right. Great. Well, I just wanted to introduce some of my friends around the table who are fellow restaurateurs in Atlanta, and some even close personal friends that do what we do in their way. We’ll start right here with Kelvin Slater who operates a bunch of restaurants in a really special part of town up on Ponce City Market, which for those in the crowd who are from Georgia know exactly where that is. He is the CEO of Slater Hospitality. Kelvin, we are proud and honored to have you here today, too. If you have any comments for the president, and the governor, and the secretary while you’re here.
Kelvin Slater: (21:12)
Yes, yes. Thank you. Good afternoon. Yes, we do operate Slater Hospitality. My wife’s here. We’ve done that business together. We’ve been in business together for 17 years in the restaurant industry. I just want to say, thank you, Vice President Pence, Governor Kemp, and Secretary Scalia for just the opportunity to sit here. I’m honored. To think I was playing kickball today with my kids around 9:00 this morning, to be sitting here, I’m truly honored.
Kelvin Slater: (21:47)
When I look at my life in the industry, and I never would have picked this to be something that would come to fruition. I want to say thank you to the current administration of how you jumped in and looked after our industry and allowed us to have an opportunity to get back. During that time, we didn’t have an idea of what was going to happen. When it started to happen, I looked and saw Governor Kemp stand up and lead. I want to thank you for that because all we really wanted was an opportunity to get back and get our employees back to work. I just want to say, thank you for that. We were able to do that with the CARES Act and the PPP. We are open. We opened on May 4th. We had some of the sales to come in. We’ve been up week over week.
Mike Pence: (22:47)
Are people coming back?
Kelvin Slater: (22:50)
Yes, people are coming back. With that, with what you put out for the guidelines, our team put together a plan. We taught that plan throughout our staff. We wanted to make sure the consumer had confidence that we’re adhering to those plans. I think that’s a big deal moving forward. We’re really stressing that in our team because when the consumer’s comfortable, everything starts to work. I just want to thank you for the opportunity to be here, to have this moment to thank you in person. From all of our staff, thank you.
Mike Pence: (23:29)
Thank you, Kelvin. Nice success story. Thank you.
Next Mr. Vice President, governor, secretary, is a friend of mine for many years, Michel Arnette. I met him when he had one restaurant. He now has four. He operates in a small community in north part of Atlanta. Michel?
Michel Arnette: (23:48)
Thank you, Walt. Mr. Vice President, Governor Kemp, Secretary Scalia, I am truly honored to be here. Walt, one of my dear friends, thank you, again. I’d like to actually, really quickly thank whoever chose the music lineup for today earlier. Fabulous.
It was good.
Michel Arnette: (24:11)
I’ll dive in. First, thank you for the PPP Program, the CARES Act. I was part of the first stimulus package. I was funded on April the 17th. I’ve watched real closely the guidelines and how they adjust and shift a little bit. Little nervous about the eight-week period because that’s going to come up for me on June the 11th. Governor Kemp, thank you for allowing us to get back to business. I think for the restaurants, it was April 27th. I took about a two-week period from April 27th and reopened last week, May the 13th. That two-week period was more to get our people set and ready. I think we all understand that health is the most important thing, and certainly with restaurants in general. It allowed me to, first, care for them, make sure that all of my team was ready to go.
Michel Arnette: (25:19)
What I was super surprised by was the amount of people that wanted to go, get out, and dine. From a week up until today, we were doing about, I’d say, 40% of the volume. I expected less than that. I have four restaurants in different varying sizes. One restaurant seats 90 people. My biggest one seats 220 people. The larger restaurant, on Saturday night, got 184 people, so I was super impressed by that. One thing that I think people are really confident about is the sanitation guidelines, the safety standards that we’ve put in place. Governor Kemp, Vice President Pence, thank you for those guidelines.
Michel Arnette: (26:15)
The concern on the PPP thing, for me, is more what happens as I hit June the 11th. I know there’s been some talk about extending that eight-week period. I can tell you that there was no way I could have kept my four businesses in operation had I not gotten the PPP loan, so thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here.
Mike Pence: (26:42)
Mike, thank you. What a great story, great story to tell. Let me tell you. I’m looking at one of your senators and a couple of your congressmen, and they can confirm. We are looking at a possible phase four that would include a number of things, but even before that, we are working with members of Congress in both parties to extend Paycheck Protection for just the reasons that you’ve said. President’s made it a priority. We’re working to do that in real time. Just your affirmation of how important that was… I mean, the vision that we had of Paycheck Protection was as you made the sacrifice to adhere to the federal guidelines for America and to Georgia’s guidelines, and you voluntarily closed your operation, we didn’t want you to lose, or your employees to lose, the income that they had and the employment team that you had. We recognize that.
Mike Pence: (27:50)
While we’ve made great progress… As I said, we are on a very encouraging downward trajectory in all of the key metrics. We recognize that we have some ways to go. We’re going to work with your members of Congress. Stay tuned. We know Paycheck Protection is working. We know that just a little bit more now hearing about your great experience. Thank you for what you’re doing for the community. Congratulations on that successful reopening. That’s just great to hear.
Michel Arnette: (28:24)
I’ve got a great prime steak waiting for you. We’ll be open tonight.
Mike Pence: (28:31)
He didn’t tell you what I ordered. They told me that the meatloaf was their specialty, and also suggested the pulled pork. I said, “Sounds good.” I had both.
Michel Arnette: (28:45)
The answer’s yes.
Mike Pence: (28:48)
I’ll make a reservation soon my next time through. Thank you.
All right. Thank you, Michel.
Mike Pence: (28:51)
Joseph Hsiao owns H Restaurant Group. We just met today, but I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. I know you have some thoughts for the vice president, for the governor, for the secretary, as well.
Joseph Hsiao: (29:05)
Yes. Thank you so much, Vice President Pence, Governor Kemp, Secretary Scalia, Walt, and the Waffle House organization, as well as senator and congressmen, and Karen with the Georgia Restaurant Association, as well as everybody that’s in attendance today. Thank you all for having me here. I’m extremely grateful and honored to be here, part of the roundtable discussion. When this all happened, we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do. This was just something that we never anticipated to happen. Fortunately, we did have some reserve, as well as what I immediately did was to avoid any type of interruption with anything, I went ahead and took a home equity line of credit against my home to be able to continue funding because we had all these expenses, payroll, and everything for all our team members. I didn’t want to be the company to say that…
… team members. And I didn’t want to be the company to say that, “Hey, I’m sorry, guys. I’m not able to take care of payroll at the moment, and we’ll just have to wait until we get assistance.” So what I did was, I went ahead and took care of that in order to be able to continue to fund [inaudible 00:30:15] of our team numbers. But, with the PPP, we were very fortunate, grateful-
Mike Pence: (30:20)
You just did it on your own? You did it on your own?
Yes, that’s right, had to do it own my own-
Mike Pence: (30:25)
Good for you.
Speaker 1: (30:25)
… and went into debt doing it, so, but-
Mike Pence: (30:27)
So many business in America did that before they knew help was on the way, and I want to commend [inaudible 00:30:34].
But we we’re very fortunate that all our locations received the PPP on a second round of funding-
Mike Pence: (30:46)
… so that just came through a couple of weeks ago, and we certainly were able to go ahead and utilize that. But prior to all of that, we had about three fourths of our staff that we, unfortunately, had to just put them on hold and lay off. But we immediately went ahead and got them on benefits, filed unemployment benefits for them. So the ones that were not eligible to receive the benefits, we went ahead and tried to give them as many hours as we could just … We just had to restructure the organization and the company to figure out how we were going to be able to adapt to the current changes. And then, shortly later, we received the funding. And, with that, that really helped us, helped us out a lot.
We were able to bring most of the staff back and be able to get them going again. So thank you guys so much for the support and being able to get us reopened again. So half of our stores right now are already reopened for dine-in.
Mike Pence: (31:40)
How’s it going?
It’s been great. We’ve received tremendous support from our customers, and, without their support, nothing would have been possible, but our stores outside of the city have already reopened. The stores in the city, we’re planning on reopening on Memorial Day. But in the meantime, we’ve already been … Our leadership team has already been in contact with the team members and made preparations to make sure that we are on top of everything with the guidelines, and then even making sure that we’re proactive to make sure that our customers are safe and have an enjoyable experience when they come in.
Joseph, thank you for what you did for your workers, both initially when you’re funding it yourself and also through PPP. I mean, that’s a program that we don’t administer; out of the Labor Department, as you know, but it’s one of the programs that I, as Labor Secretary, especially like. It’s, I think, one of the best things in the CARES Act. It’s enabled your business and others here to stay afloat through this just extraordinary time, but it’s been such a great help to workers, too, because it’s enabled you to bring people back on payroll, enabled workers to get those benefits, but to my view, most important, it’s put those workers and businesses in a position to spring back as we reopen. So it’s just been a great boon to workers, and I’m pleased to hear that it was able to function that way for you. As the vice president said, we’ll take a look at tweaks, enhancements, but it’s really been a successful program, and I’m glad to hear that it worked.
Thank you, secretary.
Mike Pence: (33:07)
Great, great words. Great job.
Mike Pence: (33:14)
Secretary Scalia is-
Speaker 2: (33:16)
I was going to call on him.
Mike Pence: (33:17)
The Secretary of Labor, and is a tremendous individual. We’re just so grateful to have him on the cabinet, particularly at such a time as this. Gene, you might reflect a little bit just on the restaurant industry in particular and the impacts. But I want to say that, Wall, I honestly didn’t know until going through this pandemic, the role that restaurants play in food supply. I mean, I was actually given a statistic that roughly half of the American people’s food needs are actually met at restaurants.
Mike Pence: (33:58)
But the way restaurants stepped forward through this pandemic, and I know Waffle House did this all over the country, and transferred resources that you had, transferred food supplies that you had, to those grocery stores that were staying open throughout the whole pandemic, was a great tribute. And even while restaurants were bearing the brunt, Gene, of employment impacts in the course of this lockdown, you were also there with delivery services, with pickup, with drive through, but also being a full partner, generous to food banks. Restaurant industry really stepped up even at a time the restaurant industry was taking the hardest hit. I think it’s a credit to each and every one of you, but you can applaud that. I think it’s worthy of applause. Thank you. You all, fantastic.
Mike Pence: (34:50)
Gene, you might talk a little bit about that, and about our focus going forward to make sure people can safely. Operate because OSHA works under the aegis of the Department of Labor.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. Walt, good to see you, again, it’s good to be in Georgia. And I should say, since it’s Memorial Day, my brother lives and works here. He’s the garrison commander at Fort Benning. And I’m very proud of brother [inaudible 00:05:13].
You all have missed your customers. Let me tell you, your customers have missed you. And our restaurants, they nourish us physically. They’re central to our food supply. And, actually, as we saw, there were great disruptions throughout the food distribution system, as restaurants struggled. They took such a hard hit, but we have missed you. Restaurants are part of the fabric of our society, really. It’s where friends gather. It’s where friendships are made. As we’ve social distanced, it’s pull us away from society a bit. It’s been hard for your customers, too, as it has has been for you.
I was thrilled to be able to go to a restaurant today with the vice president. I had to get on a plane … With all due respect, it’s a treat it to travel with vice president. But I look forward soon to be able to have a meal at a restaurant in my home state. Governor Kemp, what you’ve done here has really been a source of optimism and encouragement for people throughout the country, because you’ve been able to open and put people back to work but achieve great health effects, too.
So it’s very encouraging for folks throughout the country. Looking forward, I think, first of all, we’ve talked about PPP, talked a little bit about the unemployment benefits. The President and Congress acted so swiftly in March to position us for this reopening. PPP, I think, has now brought loans to about 215,000 restaurants. We estimate about 15 million American workers have been kept on payroll through that plan.
We’ve never done anything like PPP before in this country. And, likewise, the unemployment benefit. During the so-called great recession about 10, 12 years ago, we had an additional $25 a week in unemployment made available by the federal government. This time, because of what was happening to American workers, who really being told by their governments, “You’ve got to stay home for a while,” we did something very different with this $600 a week benefit. It’s been a great source of support for workers, but we’re now pivoting. We’re reopening.
It’s an optimistic time as we head into a Memorial Day weekend. Just a couple of things that we’re mindful of. First, the folks that have been on unemployment, we need that for them now, as we reopen. For those that still need that benefit. But we’ll look also to transition people back to work from that benefit as jobs become available. Safety is going to be very important. I appreciate the discussion here about safety.
I’m not sure that businesses have ever been so mindful of health and safety before, both that of their customers and their workers. As the vice president said, we’ve been providing guidance out of OSHA, working with CDC. We’ll continue to do that, knowing how important it is to businesses and to workers to have that confidence about what their rights and obligations are going forward. So, again, it’s a pleasure to be here. Really appreciate hearing your stories and what you’ve done and appreciate your leadership as well as out of the vice-president.
Mike Pence: (38:25)
Thank you, secretary.
Speaker 2: (38:26)
Lastly, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to introduce you to Nancy Goodrich. Nancy, would you mind-
Mike Pence: (38:29)
Nancy, would you mind if I gave you a quick statistic off of what the secretary just said? The governor would probably want me to make it clear that, because of the support we’ve had from the Congress of the United States and the CARES Act, I’m told the SBA, governor, has issued a $14 billion in loans to 130,000 Georgia small businesses in paycheck protection.
Mike Pence: (38:59)
[inaudible 00:00:38:56]. We’re grateful for the support that made that possible. And it’s deeply encouraging for me to hear from people that been able to keep people on the payroll through this challenging time with that program. So thank you, Walt. Nancy, please.
Oh, okay. I just want to thank you for the opportunity to be here today. It’s a real honor, and I feel very important.
Mike Pence: (39:21)
I am? Okay. The restaurant business, to me, is a challenge in itself. To me, this is just another way I have to learn how to survive, being a small business. I’m grateful that I’m in a wonderful neighborhood that has been very supportive. The first thing they did, when we had to shut down, they came up and started giving my staff money and me some money. They wanted us to survive. We did a booming to go business. My guests are very loyal. We’re like a little family. It’s like a real-life Cheers. Everybody has come together with this, and we’ve all just helped each other through it. And I’m grateful for the PPP, because my home equity line of credit is already in my restaurant.
But we’ve done a lot of to go, and then we opened our patio when you said we could on the 27th. I wasn’t comfortable opening the dining room yet, and I don’t think my guests were. I kind of like to see what they wanted me to do, and so we’re all kind of working out together. Like I say, we’re just a little neighborhood place. So, we’ve opened the dining room Monday. We’ve had … In fact, Joe Rogers was one of my first customers in the dining room, but we’ve had … Now, the challenging part for us now is, all this to-go, the patio, and now we’ve got dine-in. So it’s like a whole new ballgame, but I’ve kept all my staff throughout. Nobody has lost their job.
So we’re like a family, and the neighborhood is our family. So the restaurant, that restaurant … I’ve had that restaurant 15 years. It’s my life. It’s what keeps me motivated every day. Just being closed, going into the restaurant every day, kept me grounded, kept me connected to my people. And I mean, like I say, the restaurant business is a challenge. I hope this is the worst one we have to go through, but that’s what I’ve done to survive.
Mike Pence: (41:24)
Mike Pence: (41:25)
Great job, Nancy, really. [inaudible 00:41:25] great tribute. And you were able to keep your whole team?
Mike Pence: (41:32)
Keep your whole team, and you’ve gotten going back to work. And, also, I’m told that you maintained curbside operations throughout the whole time-
Yeah, throughout the whole time.
Mike Pence: (41:43)
And that sustained a little bit [inaudible 00:41:45] time, but-
Oh, no, it’s still going pretty strong.
Mike Pence: (41:48)
Yeah, that’ll continue to be a big part of your business.
Mike Pence: (41:51)
People got used to it. Well, that’s just great. And it really is an honor to meet you, and thanks.
It’s an honor to meet you, also.
Mike Pence: (42:02)
Thanks for loving your clientele and putting the health and safety of your employees and your community first. [inaudible 00:42:08] very inspiring. So good to be with you.
Mike Pence: (42:12)
And she she’s about twice as old as you, but my mother’s name is Nancy, and I never met a Nancy I didn’t like it, so good to meet you.
Speaker 3: (42:22)
Well, Governor Kemp, I had the opportunity to tell the vice president earlier that I thought restaurants were uniquely positioned to help lead the country out of this. And what I meant by that was that we make it our duty and our living every day to serve safe food in a safe environment to people. Our people are trained to keep things clean, to worry about things like cross contamination. We’ve all added things based on your guidelines and the president’s guidelines. But, again, we appreciate the opportunity to begin to find a path forward, because this virus is going to be here for awhile. We understand that, and we’ve got to figure out a way to function as a society and keep our people employed and keep these great businesses that employ these folks moving. So, again, thank you. Thank you both for the leadership you’ve brought to this crisis and to our little world that takes up a little piece of that crisis, but thank you for both being here.
Speaker 3: (43:35)
And Governor Kemp, I don’t know if you had any other comments that you want to say for the restaurant tours or questions for any of these folks. I’m sure they’d be happy to-
One thing, I was thinking … I don’t want to get in front of the vice president here. Really, and I know Walt’s answer to this, because I had a lot of Waffle House people going, “Just give us an opportunity. We can make this work. All we need to know is what the rules are. We’ll figure out how to follow them.” And it was really helpful to work with companies like Waffle House and Karen and the restaurant association to be able to put safe guidelines in, but also have them be where they were achievable, because you can put rules in place that won’t work. People are not going to be … They’re not going to be able to open, and if they’re not good enough, your customers are not going to feel comfortable coming back. So we appreciate the input.
But maybe, if you could just take, each of you 30 seconds, I’d be interested to know like, how did your staff embrace all the changes? How are your customers embracing that as you’ve been into this for a week or so, or a couple of weeks now?
Speaker 4: (44:39)
Well, when we got started with those guidelines, we developed a whole plan. And, luckily for us, when you initially said, “Okay, we can open,” we kept all of our salaried employees on the payroll from day one. So we were able to start a plan because they were still ready to get back to work and-
Speaker 5: (45:03)
… Started playing because they were ready to get back to work. So, that plan got developed. It got put out. We had an all staff meeting, and then they showed up. The hourly employees showed up. They were ready to go. We followed the guidelines from as they were going to be consumers. So, they could feel what it was going to be like as we got closer to our opening. And then once we went live, the consumer was pleasantly surprised because they were pretty versed on what those were. They were sitting and looking at and reading what was supposed to be happening, so we knew that so we wanted to make sure that we were within that. Actually, we wanted to exceed it because I think you have to exceed it to get the confidence. From that point on, we’ve just been adhering to that. We’ve heard some good comments back. They feel comfortable. They enjoy coming out. So, I think it’s moving in the right direction.
Speaker 6: (46:04)
Yes, so much like they were doing, between the four restaurants, we had meetings in each restaurant, going through the guidelines and protocols and the steps that we should be taking along with additional things. I think the confidence level, that was super important, kind of moving back in to this thing. So, we trained our staff obviously on the guidelines and then started adding extra steps of sanitation and all of our employees gloved, masked. That has to be consistent practice. It’s really tough in the restaurant business because we’re kind of known for bringing people together. Now, we’re actually trying to separate them a little bit. I’ve kind of renamed that the six foot social. But if our guests see how consistent we are on these protocols, then I think that is what makes them confident. I’ve talked to them all week long, even prior to my opening. I’ve got the chatter from some other guests who’ve been out to other restaurants. They’re like, “Hm, I don’t know if they’re doing it the way you guys’ are doing it.”
Speaker 6: (47:29)
So, I think how we succeed under this phase that we’re in now is by giving them the confidence, staying on top of these guidelines and these protocols. And the new thing that now we have is bottled word-of-mouth hand sanitizer. It’s a little one ounce bottle on every single table. It gets a sanitized card so when people come in, they sit, they know that the entire table, the chairs, everything, glassware, china, has all been cleaned and sanitized.
Mike Pence: (48:00)
That’s great. Smart.
Speaker 7: (48:00)
So, what we did, just like the other restaurants did, very similar, same thing. Followed the guidelines. We were communicating with all our team members to make sure that they knew what the guidelines were to make sure that we were sanitizing. That was the main thing. Sanitizing everything. All the common areas that the guests were touching, that were frequently used. All that was to be done. There was no cross-contamination. So, we were on top of it plus what really helped out a lot, too, was with a lot of the … being part of the Georgia Restaurant Association as well as a lot of the different companies, they were providing a lot of seminars and webinars and being able to provide a lot of industry insight and guidance, which really helped out. I was really active with that as well as our team members. We were able to gain a lot of insights to what other people were doing, how some of the restaurants, what they were, you know, what was working for them. We were able to take that, some of the examples and be able to make it work for ourselves as well, too.
Speaker 7: (49:04)
But most importantly, I think with the confidence and everything we were giving our team, the unemployment that we’re getting, benefits, that really helped out a lot as well, too. That we’re able to continue to keep them going with very minimal interruption, and that really played a huge factor because if it wasn’t for that, we didn’t have the hours, we didn’t have the sales to be able to continue to keep everybody-
Mike Pence: (49:29)
But they’re now, as you reopen they’re now coming back in, too-
Speaker 7: (49:33)
Yes, that is correct, they are coming back now. So, that’s definitely been a huge role for all the restaurants here that if it wasn’t for that, it would have just been very difficult for a lot of team members because this was just something, like I said, that nobody was prepared for and we just had to adapt and figure things out.
Mike Pence: (49:55)
Great job. Great insights, too.
Brian Kemp: (49:57)
Nancy, how’d your associates adjust to all this?
Everybody has adjusted. We’d go over it every shift, the protocols, and what we need to do and we just keep going over it, over and over and over again and again. Nobody seems to have a problem with it. My problem is the guests on the patio are all watching each other like, “How close are you?” So it’s almost turned into, well they’re closer than you said we could be yesterday. But, can I just ask one question? Do you think we’re going to have to wear the masks and gloves forever?
Speaker 8: (50:28)
I’d hope not.
Yeah, it’s really uncomfortable to me but I feel like, I went out to dinner and it just freaked me out. I mean, that’s me as a customer.
Brian Kemp: (50:42)
Yeah, we’re looking at the gloves right now because I think there could be some arguments made that that may not be helpful. I think the masks right now in public places probably is smart just because of the level of spread. Plus, I think in today’s world in the court of public opinion, not everybody is there, but I do think in places like restaurants for, at least during the reopening, it’s helpful.
Speaker 8: (51:10)
And Nancy, just to reinforce that, it’s not a forever thing. But we got to where we are through care and caution. We’ll have to do that a bit longer even as we reopen to make the reopening work. But it won’t be a forever thing. We’re going to beat this. I just wanted to offer one quick comment on the path forward because as I look forward, I look back, too. I look back at where we were just three months ago. I think it’s important to remember that. What an extraordinary economic moment we were in. We’re looking at such difficulty right now with the unemployment levels we have, particularly in this industry. But we were at record low unemployment just a few months ago. We had, one of the best things about it was so important to the president, the rising wages that we saw for particular low wage workers. Wages were rising throughout the country but in particular for low wage workers.
Speaker 8: (52:02)
It was a really, really great moment for this country economically. That is our goal. That’s where we want to get back. And we know how to do it. We need to get through what we’re dealing with right now. But there were also a set of policies and priorities in place under the president and under the vice president that got us there. We’re keeping mindful of that as well. The government has had such an important role to play right now but even more important than that in creating jobs is the private sector, and that’s something we’re very mindful of going forward, too.
Mike Pence: (52:34)
Well, maybe I can … I see a number of my people standing, which usually is a sign that I may have overstayed my welcome. But-
Brian Kemp: (52:43)
We understand you have a lot to do.
Mike Pence: (52:46)
But, I want to invite you in joining me in thanking Governor Brian Kemp and the first lady, Marty, for the tremendous leadership. I want to thank you all. I want to thank all the great associates here, all these great business leaders here. Nancy, I just want to encourage you, we’re getting there because what the people of Georgia have done, people of America have done, we’re every day closer to the day that we put this coronavirus in the past. We’re working around the clock to spin up new medicines, therapeutics. You heard the breakthroughs this week on vaccines, early trials of vaccines are very promising. We’ve launched operation warp speed, so we’re already in the process of [inaudible 00:53:45], begin to create vaccines. President said if we find a vaccine that works, he wants 100 million doses by the fall, 300 million by the winter. We’re going to work our hearts out to make that a reality. We’re going to continue to surge supplies, increase testing and meet this moment.
Mike Pence: (54:02)
We’re also going to continue to focus all of our efforts, Walt and all of you gathered here, on opening up America again. I hope if you heard no other message today, I wanted to come to Georgia today to say thank you to the people of Georgia, thank you to the governor of Georgia because Georgia is leading the way to opening up America again. I’ve always believed in the goodness and common sense of the American people. Since the president gave me this assignment, I’ve only grown in my conviction but it really is true. And to hear the practical ways that businesses have taken the federal guidance, taken the state guidance, put it into practice, undoubtedly you’re slowed the spread, you’ve flattened the curve, you’ve saved lives. So, I want to thank you for that.
Mike Pence: (54:52)
But I also believe there’s evidence of God’s grace in all of this. I believe as we, every single day we continue to take these steps we take and implement the guidance of your state and local officials, we hasten the day that we do put this all in the past. I don’t know if you heard today that as I was walking in but the president had our CDC work with a taskforce and today we published new guidelines for places of worship. We want to get America back to church, to synagogue, all of our places of worship because I truly do believe that as we reopen America safely and responsibly, as we continue to see those people come back to the WH’s, around America and all these great restaurants, it’ll be a testament to the cooperation of the American people to the leadership of the federal, especially the state level, but I do believe in also the evidence of the prayers of the American people and the grace of God. So, faith in him and confidence in all of the others.
Mike Pence: (56:05)
I want to say thank you Georgia, thank you for what you’ve done. Thank you for leading the way and God bless you.
Mike Pence: (56:06)
Thanks everybody. Thanks so much. Great job.
Speaker 9: (56:06)
Speaker 10: (56:06)
Mike Pence: (58:31)