The Service Industry is Suffering: Support Them 

Restaurants have been hit hard in the wake of coronavirus.

When I spoke to Spindini owner and restaurateur Jim LoSapio for this week's cover story, a collection of highlights on what some of our beloved local restaurants are doing in the wake of coronavirus, he got choked up talking about his employees.

"I had to lay off about 50 people [across all restaurants]," he says. "It's one thing to have to get rid of an employee who's not performing, but when you're having to terminate employees who shouldn't be terminated ... I can't tell you how many single mothers I've had to lay off. I honestly have lost sleep many a night over this."

  • Lane Erickson |

LoSapio isn't alone. R.P. Tracks owner Mary Laws also spoke about the pain of having to lose a large part of her staff. "Of 34 people, I have six people who are still working for me, and everybody else has been furloughed," she says. "When I had to make the choice of who the six people were ... that was the hardest business decision I've ever made in the five years of owning Tracks. I don't think I have cried any harder than I cried when I had to do that."

Both LoSapio and Laws are hopeful that their people — "my adopted kids," as Laws calls her younger employees — will be able to come back soon, that when the virus runs its course and the world opens up again, the community will return swiftly to fill the seats now sitting empty.

These two business owners certainly aren't the only ones struggling with the decisions they've had to make to keep up with payroll and operating costs after incoming revenue shrunk to naught practically overnight. And their employees are among the thousands suffering as restaurants, bars, and retail operations have been limited or shuttered indefinitely to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Some in the service industry have gotten creative, starting new businesses like Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck, a collection of out-of-work bartenders, servers, musicians, and others who are now offering lawn-care, cleaning, handyman, shopping, and delivery services so that they can make a buck during COVID closings. (For more info or to make an appointment, visit

Edible Memphis has organized the Memphis Food Industry Emergency Worker Assistance GoFundMe (and raised more than $32,000 at press time), and a Google search will lead you to's COVID-19 resources page, where a virtual tip jar link can be found. There, more than 700 local service industry employees have listed their Venmo, Paypal, and/or CashApp info to receive tips online while they're out of work. Go take a look and see if your favorite server or bartender is on the list.

As for R.P. Tracks' furloughed workers, Laws says, "I used to be a server. Servers live day to day, so I know they didn't have a pantry full of food. For our staff that isn't working right now, they can come here and get a free meal every day ... and they all know the minute I can reopen the dining room, they all are coming back."

LoSapio says his employees are calling to check in on him. "They're staying in touch," he says. "What they want is for us to survive — for me as a boss to survive — so at the end of this, they can have their job back. It's a blessing because these employees have given so much. For years, they've given to me."

In the meantime, even though we can't go out and be the barflies we used to be (we're looking at you, Young Avenue Deli bar!) or dine in at our favorite food spots (read about a handful of those in this week's cover story, "Delivering the Goods"), we can support the restaurants and workers who have come to define Memphis' soul and culture.

Whether that be through the aforementioned fundraisers or new ventures or by simply ordering delivery or curbside pickup from a few of our city's many beloved establishments, let's show the world why Memphis is known for its grit. We're a resilient bunch. Together, we will get through this.

Shara Clark is managing editor of the Flyer.

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