Finding PRIDE in Bubba - Southern Comforts in 2021
Throughout June, PRIDE month, it’s important to reflect on the LGBTQ community’s ongoing economic impact and support of small businesses, and the hospitality industry in particular, during a most challenging year. According to a recent report done by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, there are more than 1.4 million LGBTQ-owned businesses with an economic impact of $1.7 trillion, many of which are in the hospitality, or restaurant, industry.
Below, I interview Chris Diebel, co-owner and managing partner of Bubba - Southern Comforts, about weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and what economic recovery looks like for the hospitality industry.
Jayne Armstrong: Chris, this year has been difficult for the hospitality industry. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted restaurants locally?
Chris Diebel: The hospitality industry has a long history as a safe refuge for the LGBTQ community. I’m proud of the significant representation among Bubba’s own staff and management team. When the COVID-19 pandemic and business shutdowns hit, restaurants suffered and, in turn, the LGBTQ community did as well.
JA: How has Bubba refocused amid closures and social distancing guidelines?
CD: Last March, the Bubba management team spent two days developing a game plan. From there, we reorganized based on social distancing guidelines and limited our menu to control costs.
We also utilized two forgivable loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program through Earlham Bank and a grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority that kept the lights on, covered many expenses and brought back many of its 34 employees. A recent SBA Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant also positions Bubba for the next stage of recovery.
JA: Besides grants, what else helped Bubba stay afloat?
CD: Governor Reynolds’ actions allowing “to go” cocktail sales likely saved a lot of restaurants that couldn’t make it on takeout and delivery orders alone, providing a critical revenue stream for Iowa’s restaurant industry when they needed a lifeline.
JA: How did you stay up-to-date on changing policies during the COVID-19 pandemic?
CD: Thanks to ongoing advocacy by the Iowa Restaurant Association, we were well informed of state and national policies over the course of the pandemic. The industry came together as one to collaborate since we were all facing similar challenges.
JA: What are some challenges that continue to be front of mind for Bubba management?
CD: Bubba is one of many downtown restaurants that relies on the local workforce and business travelers for its lunch business. Revenues are down significantly with employees working remotely and not traveling. The closures of arts and cultural events at the Des Moines Civic Center, Wells Fargo Arena and local performing arts venues have also had an effect on downtown restaurants attracting leisure diners.
JA: What does the future look like for the restaurant industry?
CD: While much attention is focused on the labor shortage due to wages, many hospitality employees have left the industry altogether due to slow recovery and higher pay in other sectors. We don’t just want to provide a livable wage, we want our employees to have good lives, benefits and careers. Right now, that’s difficult because of increased expenses restaurants are facing. Business owners should also be proactive for the next pandemic, ensuring appropriate cash reserves to operate during a shutdown.
The U.S. Small Business Administration is the go-to resource and voice for small businesses. Backed by the federal government, SBA empowers and supports small business owners and entrepreneurs' recovery from declared disaster through services delivered across the country. Here in Iowa, our resource network includes 15 Small Business Development Centers, four SCORE chapters, the Women’s Business Center and the Veteran’s Business Resource Center. Find LGBTQ-owned small business information here.
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