Local caterers lose millions of dollars as business bottoms out from coronavirus

Local caterers lose millions of dollars as business bottoms out from coronavirus

Cancellations in March, April wipe out schedules, revenues

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The last week has been a disaster for Ridgewells Catering in Bethesda as the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak ravaged the business.

All of the events Ridgewells was scheduled to cater for March and April are gone because of cancellations, in at least some instances because of government restrictions on crowd sizes. CEO Susan Lacz estimated the loss of business at $3.4 million.

The bad news continued when Strathmore in North Bethesda announced on Tuesday that, through April 3, it will close the Mansion and Music Center to the public and suspend programming at AMP, the music venue in Pike & Rose. Ridgewells is the exclusive food-service provider for Strathmore.

Susan Gage Caterers in Landover, Md., which does a lot of event business in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, also saw the bottom drop out.

Chappall Gage, the company’s president, pegged the recent losses at $1.5 million to $2 million. All March events have disappeared, along with the majority in April.

“It’s been really rough …,” Gage said. “Schedules just evaporated.”

He said the company usually handles about 3,000 to 3,500 events a year. He’s trying to figure out what it can do now to help its roughly 150 employees. He did not want to comment further on the status of his employees.

Ridgewells has about 275 employees, both hourly and salaried. With virtually no work for them to do, all but a half dozen have been furloughed.

At first, the losses were gradual at Ridgewells, but they turned into a wave.

Lacz thought back to last week, when Washington, D.C., recommended canceling events that would have more than 1,000 people. At first, Lacz said, she was upset and wanted the business community to push back on the limitations.

Then, over the next few days, changes prompted by coronavirus were happening so fast, it was hard to keep up. It became easier to understand the context and reasoning, even as D.C. quickly lowered its cap on public gatherings to 250.

Still, “I didn’t think it would be that drastic,” Lacz said.

A black-tie event on Saturday for 600 people in D.C. was canceled at 5 p.m. two days before.

Lacz said she would like to hear more from government leaders about their specific plans to help businesses, which are suffering losses.

Looking ahead to June, Ridgewells has some big events lined up for the U.S. Golf Association — the Women’s Open in Texas, the Senior Open in Rhode Island and the U.S. Open for men in New York. She remains hopeful about events still on Ridgewells’ calendar.

Gage said the first sign of trouble appeared to be events connected to people cutting back on travel. A week ago, everything else started to disappear.

Both Ridgewells and Susan Gage Caterers are shifting to takeout and delivery sales for people who order out.

Lacz said one client gave each of its employees a $100 card for Ridgewells meal deliveries.

Gage said his company also is exploring producing kosher food and the possibility of making Passover meal kits.

He said the company has been through economic shock before, such as after 9/11. But at that time, he said, people were scaling back their events, rather than canceling them entirely.

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