New Orleans restaurateur meets with President Trump as his restaurants wade into unknown waters

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- A New Orleans restaurateur was at the White House Monday with Louisiana in the initial days of economic reopening. Restaurants are welcoming diners once again as part of Governor John Bel Edwards phased in plan. Though reopening is limited, Melvin Rodrigue, president and CEO of Galatoire’s in New Orleans says a taste of normalcy is coming to the industry.

New Orleans restaurateur Melvin Rodrigue speaks with White House officials about the current climate of the restaurant industry. (Source: CNN)

Rodrigue described to President Donald Trump in the West Wing the dire situation for his restaurants and others around the country. His dining rooms at Galatoire’s are allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity as they wade into unknown waters this coming Wednesday.

“He said he’s in our corner and that he’s willing to adapt to help us get where we need to be,” said Rodrigue.

While reopening hints at a return to normal for Rodrigue, he does not expect to make money.

“I stand to lose more money at 25 percent than I did a week ago because I’m introducing more expenses now,” said Rodrigue.

But he says it is important for customers to see his operations back, safely, in action. As for his finances, he hopes the Trump administration and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) keep his stoves burning until his revenue is back. For Rodrigue’s PPP loan to remain forgivable, he has to hire back his employees. He says some are worried about returning to work in the current climate, so he is asking for some flexibility on the rules from the president.

“With help from the president we can create a little more staying power for these businesses,” said Rodrigue.

Dr. Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist from Tulane University says restaurants present an obvious challenge: diners cannot wear masks while eating, increasing the chances of virus spread and a spike in positive cases.

“There’s nothing that’s risk-free. That’s the unfortunate reality,” said Hassig.

But Hassig thinks Louisianians are ready to slowly get back out there. She says as long as people and companies obey health guidelines, the reopening can be a success.

“You can still enjoy yourselves. But we’re just going to have to be a little more cautious and careful right now,” said Hassig.

Rodrigue says he is waiting on guidance from city officials about when a phase two of this reopening could come. He does not know how that next phase would impact capacity at his restaurants.

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