Iconic LGBTQ staple Suzy Wong’s House of Yum is not only preserving its unique cuisine by adjusting hours of operation and following safety guidelines, but it’s also joining a group to lobby for an increase in specific relief for bar owners across the country.
The group #SaveOurStages, which has garnered bipartisan support in Congress for a specific relief package targeting bars and restaurants in the United States, is operated by the National Independent Venue Association in order to preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters.
“We went through a number of different iterations,” says co-owner Todd Roman. “When the orders first came out, we completely closed, and as guidelines continued to evolve, we did as well.”
Roman says they’ve been in close contact working with the Metro Nashville Health Department to ensure they handled the phases responsibly. In the first phase of re-opening, Suzy Wong’s opened with takeout only. After an increase in COVID-19 cases within the city, they felt it responsible to close down and modify their hours.
“We experienced a great deal of anxiety on top of the anxiety everyone is experiencing with the new information about the virus and where that’s going to lead us,” says Roman. “On top of that, you’re worried about the wellbeing of your employees and patrons, and how we’re all going to come out on the other side of this. This is our new reality, and we don’t really have the choice to cope with it, we have to.”
Roman says they were able to receive relief funds, with very specific requirements to secure those funds were directed to help maintain staff and to help pay utility bills. There is a provision in the package for contracted drag performers as well, based on previous payrolls. Roman says they’ve lost relatively few employees.
In Nashville, the safety rules seemed to bend for bar owners downtown, while several LGBTQ owned bars were losing money daily by following the rules, which Roman found frustrating.
“In a way, it seemed like there was a disconnect in the regulations and the reality of what was happening on the ground,” says Roman. “There was a loophole which allowed lower Broadway to continue to operate as normal because they classified themselves as a restaurant or food service. Restaurants were allowed to operate at a reduced capacity because they sold food during the day, whereas bars were required to close.”
It took the city weeks to catch up to this reality, until Mayor Cooper issued an Executive Order requiring bars to close at 10pm. Roman says regardless of what’s happened downtown, he and his partner have focused their energy on things within their control.
“I’m not a big proponent of social media activism, so we spent our energy working with the health department getting real time information on how the guidelines should be followed,” says Roman. “I think once the city was made aware, they did act quickly to address those inequities and restrict those not abiding by the rules.”
Between Suzy Wong’s, Play, Tribe and Play Louisville, Roman and his partner employ approximately 150 employees. Of those, only 3 have tested positive since the pandemic began, and they credit strong precautionary measures. All employees have their temperature checked when they walk in the establishment, and each employee signs an affidavit stating they have not experienced any symptoms. If they have, they are required to undergo a 2-week mandatory isolation and receive a negative test before they return.
Roman says even since they’ve opened at limited capacity, business is still down at least 50-60% from the time before the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States. That hasn’t stopped them from offering one of the best deals in the city.
Suzy Wong’s restructured its brunch so that now it includes 3 appetizers (fruit, biscuits and an egg roll). Customers get this, their choice of an entree, and a beverage for $28. Roman says, by far, the most popular choice for entree is chicken and waffles and the most popular drink is the Brunch Punch.
The owners have not just taken on the survival of Suzy Wong’s, but have focused additional efforts in helping other business owners get the help they need, and have lobbied for bills in Congress aiming to help the industry.
“Without direct aid from the government, our businesses have no resources, especially small, independent businesses,” says Roman. “Our rent and bills continue, regardless of the crisis, and that comes out of our pockets.”
“We miss everyone terribly, our employees certainly miss all of their regulars,” says Roman. “We want to assure people we will be here ready for you on the other side when a vaccine is found or we are able to open safely.”
As of this writing, Suzy Wong’s is open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30am-3pm. Guests can make reservations and order take-out online HERE or by calling 615.329.2913.