Thousands of restaurant workers now without a job in New Jersey

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Restaurant owners say that they simply cannot afford to keep their staff while customers remain inside their homes to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Derek Shields and his wife Emily Kugelman are two of thousands of New Jerseyans who once had good jobs working at restaurants and bars, but have since been laid off. Shields was a cook at Blend on Main in Manasquan and Kugelman was a cook at the Beacon Hill Country Club.

“I had to file for unemployment. There’s no way he can keep us all afloat. He has 43 employees,” Shields says.

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Kugelman has also filed for unemployment while also falling back on her “other” job as a mother.

“My son is homeschooling right now, so every morning it’s a little crazy,” she says. “I’m not a teacher so it’s something I’m not used to.”

The family is in the same situation as so many other New Jerseyans, including the business owners. Blend on Main owner and chef Lou Smith spoke to News 12 New Jersey from an empty dining room while waiting on phone orders. Under the orders of Gov. Phil Murphy, restaurants may only offer takeout or delivery service.

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Smith says that he is trying to give back to the community while the crisis is ongoing.

“We are trying to get into senior centers,” Smith says.

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He is creating orders full of comfort food for senior citizens – order one and get another one for free.

Small business owners are now allowed to apply for a disaster relief loan. But Smith says that he is not sure everyone would feel comfortable taking on another loan.

“I don’t know how many people are going to swallow that pill,” he says.

Smith says that right now he is most concerned with staying open and getting people like Shields back to work.

“Trust me, I want to call him tomorrow and tell him the to-go orders are taking off, come back,” says Smith.

Smith says that another reason that this is such a difficult time is that, for the first time, he is not in control of the success of his business.

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