Signed letter from Memphis Restaurant Association

PDF of the signed letter is here.

November 23, 2020
Via Hand Delivery
Dr. Alisa Haushalter, DNP, RN, PHNA-BC
Director, Shelby County Health Department
814 Jefferson Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38105

Re: Memphis Restaurant Association, Inc.
Dear Dr. Haushalter:
I have the pleasure of serving as the Incoming President of the Memphis Restaurant Association (MRA) and will be following the tenure of my colleague Ernie Mellor, whom I understand you have communicated with in the past. As you may already know, the MRA represents its member restaurant operators and supporting businesses of the restaurant industry, which include approximately one hundred sixty-nine (169) restaurants and ninety-four (94) businesses that serve and support the restaurant industry. Please find enclosed a list of names and businesses signing on to this letter representing those that support the pleas included in this letter. Many more will likely join in support after this letter is delivered. We will present these additional signers when we meet next week.

First and foremost, we would like to extend our thanks for your and your department’s diligent efforts in these most unprecedented times to protect the health and safety of all members of our community. Thank you.

The MRA and its members have been and will continue to advocate for the health and safety of our families, staff, and community. We have abided by the letter and intent of all health directives, many of us having gone above and beyond minimum requirements. We have suffered and survived through shutdowns, fear, and intermittent voids of information, often being left to fend for ourselves in our attempts to decipher directives, comply with mandates, and do all that was necessary to care of our employees and our customers.

I write today to ensure that the public discourse and the Health Department’s directives during this pandemic are based in fact and data. We implore you to please help us improve communication, clarity, and understanding and to address our concerns and questions specifically regarding Health Directive 15 and Face Mask Order No. 3 and any future directives which may be forthcoming. Our goal is to strengthen the partnership between our industry, our elected officials, and the Health Department.

Specifically, the MRA’s concerns include the following areas:

Communication: We need an open line of communication to address issues related to these directives and related issues as they arise. In light of the attention focused by the Health Department on our industry, a single, designated point of contact within the Health Department with authority to answer our questions or, at least, obtain and provide answers for us in a clear, consistent, and prompt manner would be appropriate.

Data: We need to understand what metrics are being used to make decisions related to our industry and be allowed access to that data so we can better understand and prepare for what may be coming. Understanding the data upon which you base your crucial decisions allows us, as business owners, the opportunity to support your policies through our interactions with our employees and with the public. Access to the underlying data and an understanding of your application of the data in your decision-making processes will also allow us the opportunity to plan strategically four our businesses and make the difficult decisions, both in the short-term and long-term, with a verifiable basis for those decisions, rather than mere conjecture or speculation. Frankly, we all have heard that these are data-driven decisions being made, it is time for us to see and understand the underlying data.

Timing: Given the “Trip Wires” plan that was issued in August 2020 as the road map to decision making with respect to opening and closing businesses, why are we not given notice and time to plan versus being forced to merely react to the directives? If there is an obvious trend to cross a trip wire, there should be an equally obvious next step that needs to be conveyed to us so that we can communicate to our customers, staff and vendors that change(s) may be coming.

To that end, we respectfully submit that directives posted on a Friday evening with no opportunity to plan or clarify before the implementation the following Monday morning is inexcusable. We need to build a partnership in order for our industry and community to support our leadership, but it is difficult to do so when these tactics are employed to our detriment.

Messaging: We need to generate a positive message to the public; not one that promotes fear. The spread of this virus is not solely due to dining out by any stretch, and we are working hard and at great expense to do our part. The restaurant industry should not be vilified or scapegoated in the process.

Enforcement: First, we need help. We need the Health Department to enforce the directives it is issuing. Asking businesses and their employees to confront people who have chosen to patronize their establishments regarding the customers’ personal behavior is an untenable position. Restaurants have often been left unsure of the specifics of regulations and are, regrettably, being forced to choose where to draw the line between serving our guests and interpreting how far regulations are intended to go.

We ask that you recognize that the vast majority of restaurants are compliant, many going well beyond the standards set. We are a vital part of the Shelby County community and economy and don’t deserve to be lumped together with a few bad actors. Blatant offenders have been reported to the Shelby County Mayor’s Action Center, and by all anecdotal evidence, these reports appear to have been ignored. We understand that you know the identity of the non-compliant restaurants, so why not focus your resources to bring them into compliance without a blanket policy that punishes everyone?

As part of an improved dialogue, the MRA would like to address the following questions with you. We are standing by to address these items in any forum you may deem most appropriate.
a. Are decisions being made solely on a data-driven basis? If so, what metrics are being used. If there are other factors, what are they?

b. What data indicates that restaurants are the “high-risk settings” that we have been designated?

c. Does this data directly link individual restaurants to COVID cases? If so, have those particular businesses been so notified?

d. How many COVID cases has the Health Department directly attributed to exposure in a restaurant via contact tracing or other means of reporting?

e. We have been told by Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) agents that TABC is now involved as additional enforcement and inspection. Is this accurate? If so, how are the efforts of the TABC and the SCHD being directed and by whom?

f. Masks between bites. Is this literal or are guests allowed to leave them off while they have food and drink in front of them? CDC directs us to sanitize when removing masks, and to minimize contact with masks. How are out customers to follow CDC guidelines while masking between bites and sips?

g. With respect to the “household” requirement, is this really saying that co-workers, people on a date, families that live in separate homes, etc. are not allowed to dine together? If so, how would we even begin to enforce this?

We respectfully write to you, not just on behalf of restaurant owners, but on behalf of our staff, our vendor partners and our customers, all of which are stakeholders in the decisions you make. Yes, there are massive economic implications to businesses and tax revenues, but these are the livelihoods of thousands of Memphians. We WANT to be part of the solution. We ask that you help us understand by including us in your considerations and sharing data that helps us help you.
Accordingly, MRA respectfully requests that the “Limited Restrictions for High-Risk Settings” provisions of Health Directive 15 and Section 2(g) of Face Mask Directive 3 be reconsidered and/or that enforcement thereof be stayed pending further review. We further request that no future changes to the requirements in health directives which would affect the restaurant industry be made without prior consultation with the MRA. Our members desire to cooperate, and I am confident that, working together, we can continue to operate restaurants safely and in an economically viable manner.

I can assure you that as our knowledge of the virus develops and the restaurant industry continues to develop best practices for operation in this environment, MRA and its members remain steadfastly committed to immediately modifying their procedures and protocols to remain on the cutting edge of safe operation for their workers and customers. To that end, MRA welcomes further discussion with the Shelby County Health Department or third-party experts to consider potential steps that MRA members could implement which would meet and exceed the public health needs while not further endangering the viability of so many of our business and the livelihoods of our team members.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Your prompt attention to this would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Mike Miller
Incoming President
Memphis Restaurant Association, Inc.

cc: Jennifer Sink (via email)
City Attorney

Marlinee Clark Iverson (via email)
County Attorney

Brian Yoakum (via email)
Counsel to Memphis Restaurant Association, Inc.

Front Door Printable for HD 15

hd 15

The new Health Directive effective Monday, November 23, 2020 states:

Mask is required for entry, patrons are required to wear masks at all times except when actually eating a bite of food or drinking a beverage.

Our capacity is limited to 50%.
We close at 10pm.

No more than 6 guests (with a maximum of 4 adults) may be seated at the same table, and they must be of the same household.

Click here to print a sign for your front door.

hd 15

This is a link to the formal Health Directive.

 

Shelby County Commission Meeting Is Today

Shelby County Commission Meeting is today! It is an in-person meeting at 3:00p. There is an opportunity to speak for 3 minutes in the beginning. Dr. Haushalter is first on the agenda so we should be able to speak, then hear her comments, and not stay for the entire meeting.

(To clarify – there is ALSO an MRA-Members-Only zoom meeting at 1:30pm today. Read about it here.)

We want to notify you of this opportunity to appear, but please know that at least a few members of the MRA Board will be there.

Information on the meeting is here: link to County Commissioners Website.

Shelby County Commission Committee Meeting

Monday November 23rd 3:00 p.m. CDT

1st Floor Chambers
160 North Main St
Memphis, TN 38103

Registration URL : https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/253037619053237771

Webinar ID : 902-077-355

It is our understanding that your best opportunity to speak will be to attend in person, however, we encourage anyone who would like to attend virtually.

COVID-19 Posts:

Health Directive 15 Statement Input

All Member Meeting

All MRA Members:

Please join in the conversation about a collective position to present to the public, our elected officials, and the Shelby County Health Dept regarding Friday, November 20th’s release of Health Directive 15 (link to it is here). We have already heard opinions across the spectrum from acquiescence to protests, lawsuits, and many in between. We need to come up with a common message that the majority of us agree to address our concerns and continue to show that we are seriously and diligently handling public safety concerns while also considering the livelihood of our family, staff, and community.

Please take the time to share your thoughts.

The goal will be to write a letter to the Health Department, Mayors, and other elected officials that each member can sign on to, and distribute. Once we have a letter drafted, each member will have the opportunity to sign their name to the letter to be sent. It will then be redistributed to both members and officials for dissemination.

If you are unable to attend, please email President-Elect Mike Miller before the meeting for your thoughts to be included.

Scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Health Department All Membership Meeting
Time: Nov 23, 2020 01:30 PM Central Time
Join Zoom Meeting with this link
Meeting ID: 835 4527 0642
Passcode: mrahd
One tap mobile
+19292056099,,83545270642#,,,,,,0#,,249691# US (New York)

Meeting ID: 835 4527 0642
Passcode: 249691
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kcprXPNQzi

Vendors are welcome to attend, but this meeting will focus on the thoughts and opinions of restauranteurs. Please make sure your zoom name is clear so there is no delay in admitting you from the zoom waiting room.

COVID-19 Posts:

Nov 20 Health Department Update

Nov 20 Update

We know that, despite the Health Department Directive being updated today (link to #14), there will be an updated directive this afternoon or this evening.

It appears they are not going to close any businesses fully, rather just add more restrictions.

Our understanding of the new directive is that it will affect curfew and capacity only, although we don’t know the details.

We believe this will go into effect Monday or Tuesday.

As always, please read the directive for yourself when it is made public.

Please know that the MRA has been in constant contact with the Health Department, fighting, even pleading, to save our restaurants. Ernie, our current President, has been on the phone with them three times this week. Unfortunately, the Health Department still is not forthcoming with details.  As we learn of ANY updates, we will immediately send out what we know.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please reach out to us.

COVID-19 Posts:

Webinar With Poplar Health on Pool Testing

Pool Testing

You are invited to a webinar tomorrow to learn about the Test to Protect program by Poplar Healthcare.

Zoom Info – 9am, Wednesday, November 18
Join Zoom Meeting
Email us for zoom meeting info – email here.

Test To Protect
Thank you for your interest in the Test to Protect program, which is also referred to as assurance testing for local Mid-South organizations. We have been pleased by the overwhelming interest in this program, and are encouraged by the prospect of so many organizations looking to ensure the community can operate more safely during this pandemic.

In this message, I will provide an overview of the program, which includes two types of asymptomatic testing options offered by Poplar Healthcare. Next week, I will begin scheduling webinars to showcase the web-based software you would use to manage and facilitate testing. Once I get those webinars scheduled, I will send you an invitation to each of them and you can accept whichever one works best with your schedule.

Option 1: Individual Specimen Pooling

Individual Specimen Pooling works by collecting a swab, from an asymptomatic individual, and placing it into a tube labeled for that specific person. Once at the lab, we pool/combine those specimens into groups of 5, 10 or 20 and process them as one pooled/combined specimen. If the pool is negative, each person receives a negative result. If the pool sample is positive, we go back and run each specimen individually to find the positive case(s). Then each result is reported. With this option, each person receives a result—either positive or negative—without needing an additional test. The cost for this option is up to $20 per test.

Option 2: Swab Pooling

Swab pooling, also referred to as “pod” testing, is the newest pooling option we have to offer. With this method, each person has their own nasal swab; however, up to 20 individual swabs are combined into one tube at the point of collection. If the combined pod/tube is negative, each person is negative. If the pod/tube is positive, the individuals are notified that their pod/tube was positive and each must get individually tested. They can go to any site/clinic offering individual testing, which includes Poplar Healthcare through our on-site drive thru testing, which is available Monday—Saturday between 8am—12pm. The follow-up test is covered by insurance. The cost for Swab Pooling is $100 per tube—regardless of how many individual swabs are placed into the tube. If you maximize the tube with 20 individual swabs, the cost comes out to $5/test.

COVID-19 Posts:

Nov 16 Health Department Update

Notes from the HD

Our current President, Ernie Mellor, had a call with Dr. Alisa Haushalter, Directory of the Shelby County Health Department this week. Here is a summary of their conversation and some talking points. Feel free to share this with employees and the public.

  • Workplaces are getting lax between co-workers, meaning NOT mask-wearing when they are just with co-workers. When an employee is with a customer, most are complying well with mask-wearing.
  • The reason it is important to wear masks even with just coworkers: remember 1 in 5 positive COVID cases are asymptomatic (link to study). So you don’t know if your coworker is sick!
  • Current Health Department concerns: employees are coming to work with flu, cold, allergy symptoms for 2 or 3 days. On the 3rd or 4th day they are feeling bad enough to get tested and test positive for COVID. (They have spread the virus for 3 days at that point.)
  • The Health Department is really asking employers to pay attention to employees, ask the health questions, get the temperatures. Send them home when they need to go home or have symptoms. Take this seriously!
  • Increasing transmissions are coming from places where masks are not worn or worn on a limited basis. Restaurants, Bars & Gyms. The Health Department does not intend nor wants to cut back on our work hours or worse, more limited seating restrictions. However, they still have the right to do so if they feel they need to.
  • The Health Department is pleading to the public to wear their masks as much as possible, to police themselves, to keep the distance. They are asking the public to go to restaurants at less busy times, such as 11:00 am or earlier or after 1:00 for lunch. They are asking folks to put masks on between bites.
  • Pool Testing: They are believers in pool testing. However, per Dr. Haushalter, it is imperative that all employees test. She is recommending testing once per week. Once every 2 weeks is not enough for the mathematics of finding a positive case and getting that person quarantined.

COVID-19 Posts:

Hiring

November 16, 2020 – Central Station is hiring passionate individuals with great personalities for their Front Office. Email resumes to this email.

2021-22 Board of Directors

Introducing the 2021-22 MRA Board of Directors

President

Mike Miller

Mike Miller, Patricks

  • Owner/operator of Patrick’s for over 15 years and have worked in the industry for over 35 years.
  • Past MRA President and Board member 2007-2012
  • 2015 MRA Restaurateur of the Year
  • 2019 TN State Restaurateur of the Year
As president
  • Hired our first MRA Lobbyist
  • Re-engaged with state Hospitality Assn Implemented term limits for MRA Board
  • Started MRAPAC and began working to build representation with state and local officials as well as influencing industry-related legislation
My Goals
  • Work to rebuild an inclusive membership that shares ideas, communicates, listens, and responds to member needs.
  • Continue to build MRAPAC awareness, understanding, and impact
  • Update MRA By-Laws to address structural and directional changes Build continuity for the future through clear communication, accountability, and implementation of structural expectations

Board

Shawn Danko, Kooky Canuck

I was born in Montreal Quebec Canada and started working in my uncle’s bar at the age of 12. I began working for the Hard Rock Cafe in Toronto and, over 13 years, was promoted from bouncer to Assistant GM to GM. I moved to Memphis in 2000. My wife, Lana, and I opened Kooky Canuck in downtown Memphis in 2005. Kooky has been featured on the Irish Travel Channel, Trailer Park Boys, Gas Monkey Garage, You Gotta Eat Here on Food Network Canada, World Food Championships, Black Ink Crew; New York and was the first restaurant filmed for Man v Food in 2008. In 2014 we opened our second location in Cordova. I have served on the board of directors for Memphis Tourism, Memphis Restaurant Association, Metro Memphis Hotel & Lodging Association, and Hospitality Tennessee. I’m very active lobbying for the hospitality industry at the local, state, and federal levels and am the Chair of the Memphis Restaurant Association PAC.

Lynde Sumrall-Tackett, Half Shell

For as long as I can remember I have been involved in the restaurant industry. My father and late mother have been successful restauranteurs in the Memphis for the past 40 plus years. I have always had a passion to work in the service industry. I spent a good portion of my youth working in many different roles within the restaurant industry. My father instilled the drive to learn the business from every angle. I have navigated positions from a hostess all through Management. This has given me a broad experience of all the expectations required to be successful in the industry. If I am elected to the board I would like to implement the following ideas.
  1. Improve communications with health Dept and other local governing bodies.
  2. Work with the health department to safely move past current and future pandemics and stop the bleeding in the industry.
  3. To help ensure that our industry is at the table and not on the table.
Thank you for your consideration for this position.

Eric Vernon, Bar-B-Q Shop

I am the Manager/Owner of The Bar-B-Q Shop, voted #1 ribs in America by the Food Network’s “Top Five Restaurants.” Our family-owned restaurant has been featured on one of Bobby Flay’s shows and written about in Southern Living. I graduated from the University of Memphis and hold an MBA from there, as well. I currently serve on the Board of both Welcome to Memphis and Memphis Restaurant Association.
Steve Voss, Huey's

Steve Voss, Huey’s

I am Steve Voss with Huey’s Restaurants. I have been Huey’s for 21 years and now hold the position of V.P. of Operations. My experience in the industry also includes working as Food Broker for Delta Foodservice, General Manager for the Cooker Bar and Grille, and bartending/serving at a few restaurants such as Houston’s, Mortimer’s, and Cuco’s Mexican Restaurant while attending the University of Memphis way back in the day. The Restaurant business has been in my veins my whole life. I believe I inherited this passion from my grandmother Ola Voss, who was the General Manager of the Old Knickerbocker and Patterson’s Restaurant back in the ’70s. I served on the MRA Board back in 2006 as Sergeant at Arms. My goal is to get back involved with the MRA, continue the tradition, and help share ideas, communicate, listen, and respond to all members. I am willing to serve and actively contribute to the best of my ability.

Terry Trim, Tops

As the recently appointed president of Tops Bar-B-Q, the iconic 67-year-old Memphis franchise, I bring more than 30 years of industry experience and a fresh perspective to my role. With an extensive background in restaurant and management experience, a successful track record in building growth and expansion, employee development, and strategic planning, I am well-prepared to serve the MRA in a new era and have exciting plans for growth. I am a Shelby County native and alumni of the University of Memphis. I have worked with national brands including Macaroni Grill, TGI Friday’s, Bennigan’s, and Caesars Entertainment, as well as local Memphis favorites The North End and Kooky Canuck. A firm believer in giving back to his community, I have also been active with such organizations like Memphis Downtown Association, and local charities such as St. Jude, Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Madonna Learning Center.
Jeff Zepatos, Arcade

Jeff Zepatos, Arcade

My family owns The Arcade in Downtown Memphis. The Arcade has the honor of being Memphis’ oldest restaurant. Speros Zepatos founded the diner in 1919 after immigrating from Cephalonia, Greece. I graduated from Ole Miss and am the Treasurer of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. I have served on the Memphis Restaurant Association Board for 2 years.

Vote by Halloween!

Halloween

  • MRA Board Voting is open through the end of the night on Saturday, October 31.
  • Each paid member receives one vote (per paid location).
  • If you have not received your emailed ballot, contact us to help you find it.
  • If you want to join or renew before voting ends on Saturday, you can contact us or do so here.
  • You can read bios of all the running candidates here.