Nonprofit advocates for small businesses

George Skandalos, co-owner of Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana, Sangria Grille and the The Garden Lounge in Moscow, poses for a portrait inside an empty Maialina dining room in March.

Moscow business owner George Skandalos didn’t feel he or other local business owners in Idaho had a voice when trying to promote the needs of their businesses to government officials.

Now they do.

A nonprofit organization called Food, Agriculture, Restaurant and Beverage Establishments (FARE) Idaho formed earlier this year to advocate for Idaho’s independent food and beverage industries.

Skandalos is co-secretary of FARE Idaho. He owns Sangria Grille, Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana and The Garden Lounge, all in Moscow.

He said FARE Idaho started from a letter he and several dozen food and beverage businesses throughout Idaho signed in March to Gov. Brad Little. The letter asked Little to require all nonessential social gathering places to cease operations immediately because of the COVID-19 pandemic and to implement increased emergency state unemployment benefits for the duration of the closures of those establishments.

Boise business owner Dave Krick and other Idaho food and beverage business owners founded FARE Idaho.

Skandalos said local businesses might be small, but collectively, they make up the bulk of food and beverage services in the state.

“This is all about supporting small businesses and we’re just trying to save what makes our communities unique and special,” Skandalos said.

He said one of the primary goals of FARE Idaho is convincing Idaho’s four U.S. representatives and senators to support the 2020 Restaurants Act.

“If we go to the governor or Sen. (James) Risch with 200 members, then we have a voice and we have a chance to save our restaurants with the Restaurants Act,” FARE Idaho Executive Director Katie Baker said.

The legislation would create a new $120 billion grant program to provide structured relief to restaurants through 2020.

“If they’re all about supporting small business, they should be jumping at the opportunity to be co-sponsor(s) of the Restaurants Act,” Skandalos said.

Skandalos said restaurants are asked to operate at a limited capacity but noted they barely break even at 60 percent capacity.

“If you’re asking us to operate at 50 percent capacity ... you’re giving us a gun and you’re handing us a bullet to load it to kill ourselves,” he said.

With food and beverage businesses closed or operating at a limited capacity, Skandalos said farmers and others who produce for those establishments are also hugely affected financially.

Small businesses are encouraged to take the FARE Idaho Health Pledge. Businesses who sign the pledge promise they will follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as requiring employees to wear face masks, social distancing guests and cleaning thoroughly, in order to gain trust in patrons.

“COVID is an existential crisis and so in order for us to survive this, we need to make people feel safe coming into our establishment,” Skandalos said.

Baker said those who take the pledge will receive a blue FARE Idaho Health Pledge “Dine Drink Safe” decal that business owners can stick on their menus and storefront windows.

“We really wanted to work with restaurants that wanted to make public health a priority,” Baker said.

Baker said FARE Idaho’s board of directors are reaching out to small businesses in the state asking if they would like to join the board and take the health pledge.

For more information, visit fareidaho.org.

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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