Moudi Sbeity: Without people, there is no economy

Moudi Sbeity is the owner of Laziz Kitchen, Salt Lake City.

Like legions of small businesses in Utah, we’ve made some hard choices at Laziz Kitchen in response to the pandemic. After first limiting our business to curbside delivery, we decided to close down completely. With the rate of positive COVID-19 cases in Utah over 400, we seriously weighed the risks.

Because we don’t know who has COVID-19 and who doesn’t, allowing cooks and servers to show up to work increased the risks of spreading, no matter how careful our safety precautions. Honoring the waiting period and reassessing after will save lives. We’d rather say we did than we could have.

Closing was a hard decision, but the responsible one.

Laziz Kitchen, as a restaurant, will be OK. We pick up where we left off once this is behind us. People, though, will take the largest hit, myself as an owner included. We did everything we could to run one more payroll so that everyone gets one last check for the coming weeks or months. I myself applied for unemployment, having solely relied on my restaurant as a source of income.

With an estimated $309 billion in earnings for restaurant and bar workers in the United States in 2019, the impact of restaurant closures will ripple. Without people, there is no economy. Without income, there is no way to spend.

But, this is larger than economics. This is about people. We have been obsessed with economic growth for far too long, treating people as disposable resources. Wall Street gets a $1.5 trillion bailout, while small businesses have to apply for loans to pay their staff. It’s time we shift our focus away from economic growth, and start focusing on the people who soon won’t be able to pay their rent. Unemployment checks don’t even come close to covering rent costs, and expecting people to move into cheaper housing in the middle of an epidemic is unacceptable.

We must pass rent freeze measures across the board immediately. This means disallowing the collection of rents and mortgage payments. Lenders need to extend terms by however many months this takes, at zero penalties and interest, passing on rent relief to residents and business owners. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, and we cannot leave people to the streets or collapsing under months of rent debt.

Now, more than ever, we need our leaders to think outside of party lines. This virus does not care if you are Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, queer, black, or white. We shouldn’t either. We have been on the wrong path. Let’s shift our narrative towards compassion, towards humanity, towards a greater purpose than self. Let’s bail out people, including restaurant workers, instead of just Wall Street. Bail out the people to help curb the spread of this disease as less people would need to leave their homes to get to work. Bail out the people to curb potential crimes that may be born out of desperate measures. Bail out the people to send a clear message that we are ready and prepared to save our communities over big business.

With many jobs lost, isolation from necessary social distancing, and perhaps a faltering sense of purpose as we adapt to a slower world, may we find comfort in each other.

Whether you believe in God, cosmic powers, and/or Mother Nature and her uncanny wisdom, no matter where you stand, we are sharing this experience of introspection and unanswered questions. Where do we go from here? What does this mean for me and my family? When will this end?

Our lives will forever take on new meaning from these times. And yet, love grows. Love of self, love of being, love in everything. Let this be the time when we root our humanity into higher ground, our solace befriending our gratitude. Let’s make things easier for all by passing measures to soften these hardships while we work together to build a better world. Bail out the people. Pass rent relief efforts, it’s the right and necessary thing to do.

| Courtesy Moudi Sbeity, op-ed mug

Moudi Sbeity is the owner of Laziz Kitchen, Salt Lake City.