Philadelphia restaurants get creative, band together to stay afloat

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As city and state officials try to get a handle on the coronavirus pandemic and flatten the curve, many business owners are struggling to stay afloat.

In Philadelphia, restaurants say the restrictions that are in place until the new year have made it significantly harder for them to stay open.

While pizza is of course the bread and butter at Big A** Slices in Old City, Owner Jeff Bergman is rolling with the punches and getting creative in order to survive, especially since he can't serve customers inside.

"It's hard to eat a piece of pizza in 20-degree weather," Bergman said.

RELATED: Philadelphia City Council passes bill to help restaurants stay afloat amid pandemic

So, he's added a few new menu items.

"Yeah, we do breakfast now, we do sandwiches now. Hopefully, we'll get a little bit of help, and if we don't then, I guess we won't. We should, but I can't bank on that," he added about the promise of federal grants.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 45% of Pennsylvania owners say it's unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now without federal aid.

The cost of doing business is also rising, and with falling sales, 88% of owners say their profit margins are significantly lower.

Sassafras owners Donal McCoy and Neill Laughlin are hard at work doing their best to ensure their survival in an arena many have not.

"The restaurant industry in Philadelphia particularly is resilient, so I have hope it will rebound," McCoy said.

Some restaurant owners came together Wednesday to vent frustration and guidance on how to help their employees.

Others, like members of the Save Philadelphia Restaurant Coalition, are now meeting with city leaders to demand a seat at the table as the clock winds down on the latest sets of dining restrictions.

"We're not going to change the current situation, the current health crisis. So, what can we do to start to prepare to recover from all this?," said Ellen Yin with High Street Hospitality Group.

COVID VACCINES IN PHILADELPHIA

The hearing for Pfizer/BioNtech's COVID-19 vaccine is scheduled for Thursday, and Moderna will have its hearing a week later on Dec. 17. Officials have said once authorized, vaccines could be shipped within 24 hours.

During Tuesday's news briefing, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said if approved, the city could start offering vaccines as early as next week.

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Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said if approved, the city could start offering vaccines as early as next week.



If both vaccines are authorized, he said there could be 40 million doses to vaccinate 20 million Americans in December.

"Our first priority is going to be health care workers who are routinely exposed to coronavirus, and we'll widen who gets the the vaccine as more vaccine becomes available in the coming weeks and months," Farley said.

Pfizer's vaccine, which has to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit, will ship to all 50 states, eight territories and six major cities - including Philadelphia.
Farley said Philadelphia will not have a problem with vaccine storage.

At Main Line Health they are making preparations to give doses to its staff.

"We have our employees segregated into groups of 975 or so to receive the vaccine if they want it," said Dr. Jon Stallkamp, Chief Medical Officer at Main Line Health.

The next challenge for authorities will be in easing public anxiety over the safety of the vaccines and building trust.

"It's critically important," said Dr. Drew Weissman whose work at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania is a key factor in helping enable the two vaccines. He knows there's a segment of people that are nervous.

"They want to see other people take it, show that it's safe, show that it's effective and then they'll take it," said Dr. Weissman.

Weissman dispelled notions that corners were cut in developing this vaccine.

"No corners were cut, no safety corners, no safety parameters were ignored. Everything was done by the book," said Weissman who is also a professor of medicine at Perelman.

"This is not a brand new vaccine that was invented out of thin air. We've been working on mRNA for 20 years," said Weissman.

According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases, which trigger an immune response. Many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. But not mRNA, which teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies.

Dr. Weissman said the reality is they've been working on a vaccine for over five years.

Pennsylvania health officials still do not know exactly how many doses of vaccine will come here initially, but New Jersey expects to get 76,000 doses.



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