Cash Confessional: Charlotte chef Bruce Moffett navigates the pandemic, layoffs, and PPP loans

Cash Confessional: Charlotte chef Bruce Moffett navigates the pandemic, layoffs, and PPP loans
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share by Email
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share by Email

Our Cash Confessional series, in partnership with Bank of America, takes a real and personal look inside the finances of different Charlotteans. No matter your situation, get helpful tips for a brighter financial future with Better Money Habits.


Interested in sharing your own personal finance story for our Cash Confessionals? Reach out to Katie Peralta at kperalta@charlotteagenda.com.

Bruce Moffett is a restaurateur who operates Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford, Stagioni, and NC Red.

Like other North Carolina operators, Moffett closed his restaurants to dine-in customers in March. Moffett, 56, spoke with the Agenda about navigating the restaurant business amid the coronavirus pandemic, and what he plans to do moving forward.

Advertisement

(The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Bruce Moffett

Charlotte chef and restaurateur Bruce Moffett (credit: Stefanie Haviv Photography)

How did you get to Charlotte, and how did you get into owning restaurants?

I was working in D.C. and had a situation where I came home one day and my girlfriend said she was moving to L.A., and I was not invited. I walked into my job a few couple weeks later and they said they no longer needed my services.

I had a buddy who’d moved here after college, so I came to Charlotte to check it out. We somehow managed to talk each other into opening a pizza place together. That was 28 years ago.

How much did it cost to open that first restaurant?

Around $30,000. It was my life savings. (Editor’s note: The pizza place Moffett opened is now under new ownership and called Riccio’s Italian Restaurant.)

Now these days, coronavirus aside, of the restaurants you operate in Charlotte, which is the most profitable?

Stagioni. It’s probably got the largest seating capacity, and we’re really able to manage our food costs. We utilize whole animals and disperse them throughout the menu.

What has the coronavirus done to sales at your restaurants?

We’re down between 60-80 percent, depending on the restaurant. I had to eliminate a lot of positions, and now we’re sort of treading water I guess. It’s been pretty devastating.

How many employees did you have and how many did you have to lay off?

We eliminated 50 of the 80. I kept people on to keep the restaurants open. We brought a few back through the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program). That’s going to be a whole disaster when that runs out. I just don’t know how I’m going to continue to pay people. It’s going to be a bit of a mess.

What do you mean when you say it’ll be a bit of a mess?

You have a requirement — in order to get your loan forgiven, you have to bring back 100 percent of your original staff in terms of numbers. But best case scenario, we’re only going to have 50 percent of (each) restaurant open, so I don’t know how that’s possible.

I wound up paying people what they generally made over the course of a week when they worked hourly. When this runs out on June 28, then basically I’m paying these people $17-18 an hour. What happens on June 29, when I can no longer afford to pay them $18 an hour?

How do you navigate that?

It’s this vicious circle. How can you tell us that we have to hire everyone back, but you’re limiting the amount of business we can do? (PPP) was a huge program and obviously they rushed it out as quickly as possible because they knew there was a huge need. They were forced to roll out a program so quickly that they rolled it out and then the whole thing was like, ‘We’re gonna make this money available and then we’re gonna figure it out afterwards.’

How much was your PPP for?

Barrington’s was 2.5 months of payroll, so $110,000. The one at Stagioni’s, because they have the highest payroll is around $200,000.

How has coronavirus changed the way you plan to operate your restaurants moving forward?

Short-term, we just had a meeting where we were talking about how we want to roll out for phase two.  Each restaurant runs a little differently. Obviously we’ll work to use our outdoor space as much as possible. We’ll have a menu that’s friendly for not only dine-in customers and but takeout as well. We’re trying to figure out how to reconfigure our restaurants so that our bars are basically our takeout centers. (Barrington’s, Stagioni, and Good Food on Montford are scheduled to reopen to limited number of dine-in customers on June 1.)

Long-term, it’s really hard. You can’t plan for long-term. What if we hire people back and then we get back to phase one where they shut down all the restaurants?

Will you require your staff to wear masks at work during phase two?

Yes. We’ll have gloves in some capacity. We’ll also institute very strict guidelines for hand washing.

How have takeout sales fared at your restaurants?

Better than I expected. The last couple of weeks I’ve noticed a decline in takeout, though. Maybe that’s because we’re inching closer to phase two, or people are tired of it. I was dead set in not opening at all. Someone talked me into it. We continue to pay our managers and our bills. We’re not making any money, but we’re not hemorrhaging money, either.

How much is rent at, say, NC Red?

It’s a little over $7,000 per month.

What is something that you know now, in the midst of the pandemic, that you wish you would have known before it started?

If I could take one thing out of this, I think it’s really been a wake up call for me to better understand my businesses and how they run currently and how they should run to be successful. It’s held up a mirror to the weaknesses in my businesses. Coming out of this, from a strictly business point of view, we’ll have a more cohesive business group than before.

I’m going to step into more of a chef role at all of my restaurants and have much more control over what does and doesn’t go on the menu.

Editor’s note: Chef Drew Dodd left NC Red last week. Moffett is stepping in to replace him, and he plans to reopen the restaurant within a month.

Interested in sharing your own personal finance story for our Cash Confessionals? Reach out to Katie Peralta at kperalta@charlotteagenda.com.

Story Views:
SIGN UP FOR THE DAILY AGENDA
Join the 54,732 smart Charlotteans that receive our daily newsletter.
"It's good. I promise." - Ted   Ted Williams