By a strict definition, there may be some technical differences between bars, cantinas, pubs and taverns, but I have always thought the purpose of these establishments was somewhat romantic. They are cherished places within a community where folks gather, share stories, celebrate triumphs and commiserate over tragedies. While some may not see this function as “essential,” I can personally attest to its psychological and emotional value. People not only want to gather together, they need to. Humanity demands connection. It’s ingrained in our human DNA.
I founded The Vortex with my brother and sister over 28 years ago. The funding we were able to scrape together at the time was minimal, so we opened on a shoestring budget, and put in years of hard work before we would turn a profit. We’ve always done our best to treat our employees and customers with kindness, consideration and respect. Over the years, we’ve built a loyal following of wonderful people who truly appreciate our efforts. We’ve become part of the fabric of Atlanta. We have enjoyed hosting one of the most diverse clienteles of any bar that I’ve ever been to, and I think that’s what I have loved the most about it. As the business grew, so did our extended family, because that’s what the staff and patrons of establishments like ours ultimately become.
My siblings and I no longer wait tables or sling drinks, but we continue to be involved in the daily operation of our businesses from behind the scenes. Of course, we had always assumed that one day we’d be able to retire, or at least semi-retire, and turn the reigns of leadership over to trusted members of our management team. And then came COVID-19.
The government response was the forced closure of many businesses across the country and around the world. We were told that this must be done in order to help “flatten the curve.” Okay. We certainly did not want to see our hospitals overrun. The “models” at the time suggested that the lives of millions of Americans could potentially be at stake. Obviously, we were ready and willing to do whatever we could to help avoid such a disastrous situation. But, the painful reality is that not only did this closure immediately eliminate our sole source of income, but it also eliminated the income of over 100 employees – people that we feel a deep sense of responsibility for. Since the closure, we have been rapidly burning through personal savings. Fixed costs do not vanish just because a business is closed.
Many restaurant owners are trying to put as positive a face on this situation as possible. You have to be an optimist to stay in this business for any length of time. But the folks I have spoken with all tell me that they are losing money, a lot of money, even if they’re providing take-out service. It has also been disheartening for me to read online commentary about how “greedy” business owners just want to put profit ahead of people’s safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite all of this, my siblings and I are still not planning to cut-and-run. Our main focus continues to be in attempting to save our businesses, and as many jobs of our furloughed employees as possible.
As yet, we have not received a penny of the PPP funds that are supposed to be available to small businesses, while we read headlines every day about publicly traded corporations, private institutions and other wealthy organizations receiving millions of dollars in funds from the government. If we ultimately do receive any money from this program it will certainly not guarantee our success. The funds will most likely not cover our losses, or our operating expenses. To date, we’ve only received confirmation that we have applied, along with a note explaining that the system is overwhelmed.
As the worldwide economy continues to be on lockdown, the reality is that returning from this will not be a short or painless process. And I believe the longer this situation continues, the more likely it is that we will see a devastating economic downturn. The extent of which is yet to be seen, but there is a real possibility that it could be catastrophic. I fear a vast number of small businesses will not be able to survive this situation, and that countless more people will lose their jobs.
We are currently studying the latest government guidelines, and will attempt to reopen for dine-in service when we have been able put all of the suggested protocols in place. We plan to take every reasonable precaution upon our reopening. Of course, we continue to be concerned about the most vulnerable to infection, and suggest that those folks remain in self-quarantine and do not visit our establishments at this time.
We realize that even once we do reopen, the restrictions currently in place, along with the public’s hesitation to venture out, may keep our businesses from operating in the black for the foreseeable future. I wish this was not the case, but if nothing else, I am a realist. If The Vortex is eventually not able to come back from this, I just want all of our loyal fans to know how much of an honor it has been to serve you over the years. We can only pray that my pessimism will turn out to be unwarranted. We hope to see you all again very soon.
PLEASE NOTE: We will continue to update our website with the latest information regarding our operational plans during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the latest updates, visit www.TheVortexATL.com and use the navigational heading: “LOCATIONS” to check out what’s happening at either our MIDTOWN or LITTLE 5 POINTS location. They may be different.