Among the unsung heroes that emerged during the Pandemic were many of the leaders of State and City Restaurant Associations. Andrew Rigie with the New York City Hospitality Alliance, Amanda Cohen and Tom Colicchio of the IRC, and in Connecticut, one Scott Dolch.
Dolch’s work as Connecticut Restaurant Association president during the Pandemic proved to be visionary. His work lobbying on behalf of the industry to both Governor Ned Lamont’s team and the Connecticut General Assembly battled to keep the State’s restaurants open during the most dire of times.
Once again, Dolch and his team are leading the charge to pass legislation that would help to ensure the future of the restaurant industry in the Nutmeg State. The Connecticut Restaurant Association wants to take an existing state tax and create a hospitality fund. The state’s 1% meal and beverage tax generated about $90 million last year. That money currently goes to the general fund.
Dolch sees the tax as a solution to the industry’s issues. “Let’s use dollars that we are actually generating and reinvest it back in our industry,” Dolch said. “This is a long-term investment into hospitality, and it can hopefully have lasting effects.” The Connecticut Hospitality Fund would distribute 50% to municipalities, 30% to the annual tourism fund and the remaining 20% towards workforce development.
About half of the funding would be distributed to cities and towns based on revenue through the meals tax. The rest would be split between the state Office of Tourism and for workforce development in the hospitality industry.
The restaurant industry currently supports 138,000 jobs in Connecticut, which is down 20,000 pre-pandemic. Tre Scalini in New Haven knows the problem all too well. The restaurant’s owner said money towards workforce development would make a huge impact.
“It’s extremely tough to find people these days,” Joe Maiorano, who owns Tre Scalini, said. “The workforce dollars are going to go towards training people, so sounds like it’s a good idea to try and grab some of those dollars. I think it will only help in the long run.”
But the issue runs past staffing shortages. “It’s the rising costs in customer’s food and drinks, the staff who serve them and even the power to run grills and dishwashers. With a year plus of inflation, the price of everything is up somewhere between 50 to 100%,” Maiorano said.
A thousand restaurants in Connecticut have shut down since the pandemic started, but the Connecticut Restaurant Association said more closings will come in the next few months. “It’s still very difficult for restaurants in Connecticut to survive,” Dolch said. “You’re seeing closures over the last couple months of landmark locations.”
He said the Connecticut Hospitality Fund will help, but has a few obstacles to pass at the state level. Governor Lamont’s initial response was: “Our administration is committed to continuing to support the industry. We will review this proposal as it makes its way through the legislative process.”
“This is a commonsense plan to support state tourism, local economies, small businesses and our hospitality workforce,” Dolch concluded. “It would aid an industry in need, supporting small business owners and their employees, while simultaneously stimulating local economies throughout our state.”
Learn more about the Connecticut Restaurant Association, visit their website