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International celebrity chef Daniel Boulud unleashed on government officials when asked about the impact their lockdown orders, mandates and mismanagement had on the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 crisis.
"It was irrational. Cowardly and irrational," Boulud told FOX Business.
Boulud, who was born in France, today lives near his celebrated Manhattan landmark, Restaurant Daniel, upon which he built his global fame.
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He also operates trophy eateries in Miami, Singapore and Dubai, among other glitzy international locations.
He has written several cookbooks, as well as the 2003 tome of kitchen wisdom, "Letters to a Young Chef."
Boulud is widely seen as one of the world's best chefs and most successful restaurateurs.
Chef Daniel Boulud speaks during the New York City Wine and Food Festival Lunch with Daniel Boulud at Le Pavillon on Oct. 16, 2021, in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for NYCWFF / Getty Images)
Yet even he, at the top of the industry, faced the prospect of losing everything he had worked for over many years.
"It was scary, very scary," he said. "It was very bleak. We had no idea if we would survive."
Boulud's home base of New York City suffered more than most cities, thanks in no small part to onerous government restrictions that appeared to change almost daily.
The city is still feeling the impact: The number of people eating out in New York City this summer was down 38 percent compared with the same time in 2019, according to data from restaurant reservation service OpenTable.
“It was very bleak. We had no idea if we would survive.” — Chef Daniel Boulud
The government response to events "was not rational," said Boulud. "It absolutely could have been handled better."
Among other government mishaps that raised his ire, the Biden administration introduced a $26.8 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund in 2021 to aid the struggling industry.
It was a boondoggle from the beginning.
Workers board up windows of a Nespresso store, on June 1, 2020, in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, after protesters broke into the store. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan / AP Images)
The administration first announced the money would be earmarked for women- and minority-owned businesses. But federal officials were forced to change the policy after the fund sparked discrimination lawsuits from restaurant owners.
It got even worse when the smoke cleared from the presses after printing nearly $30 billion.
Only 28% of the restaurants that applied for relief from the fund got assistance, according to data compiled by the U.S. Small Business Association.
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Some big-name chefs were awarded millions, while thousands of struggling mom-and-pop restaurants got nothing and were forced to close.
Some 90,000 restaurants around the country shut their doors because of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Daniel Boulud’s Midtown Manhattan restaurant Le Pavillon opened in May 2021 next to Grand Central Terminal, while offering amazing views of the NYC landmark Chrysler Building. (Photo by Eunji Paula Kim / Fox News)
"This is crazy. The whole thing stinks," Manhattan restaurateur Patrick Hughes fumed of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, according to 2021 interview with the New York Post.
"Some places weren’t even open and got millions," he said.
"Many of us who worked our a**es off to survive got nothing," he added.
“We had some real scares. Whatever ideas we had to save our business, we did.” — Chef Daniel Boulud
Boulud said he was among those who got nothing.
"Thank God we had savings before COVID," he said. "Typically we always save money to reinvest in our restaurants, to refresh our restaurants."
Boulud was able to rely on that money, and his own survival instinct, to get through the pandemic. He even opened a glamorous new Midtown Manhattan eatery, Le Pavillon, in May 2021.
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Still, he's upset by the seemingly indiscriminate way that relief funds were rewarded for reasons never explained — and by the way political decisions negatively impacted so many friends and colleagues in an industry that felt like it was singled out for punishment by government officials during the height of the COVID crisis.
Jon Taffer, entrepreneur and host of “Bar Rescue,” with a sign posted at a restaurant that reads, “Closed till further notice” as the city continued Phase 4 of reopening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on July 28, 202 (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
The industry lost $240 billion in sales in 2020 alone, and still has not recovered the 560,000 jobs lost, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Boulud suggested one solution: Give tax credits to those restaurants that were denied aid by the federal relief fund. So far, that idea has fallen on deaf ears.
"I still can't believe that some restaurants got so much money and others got nothing. This is public money. I pay my taxes into just like everyone else. I'm flabbergasted by the way [the government] handled it. They have their head in the sand over it."
Boulud survived by adapting and being nimble.
“I never would have imagined that we would do more to-go business than serving customers inside the restaurant.”
Among other efforts, he shut down one of his New York City restaurants and reopened it as temporary eatery at Blantyre, a luxury hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts. He found less onerous restrictions there while keeping staff employed.
It proved a huge success. Café Boulud at Blantyre is currently being remodeled and will reopen as a full-time restaurant in the near future.
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"We had some real scares. Whatever Ideas we had to save our business, we did. To-go business, shipping food, cooking classes — that all kept us busy."
Ultimately, loyal customers kept his restaurants afloat amid a world in which politicians appeared determined to ruin the industry.
"Our customers were very, very supportive. They gave us support with every initiative we tried," he said.
"Like Restaurant Daniel, we scaled down a bit. We made the menu shorter and cheaper, we were serving people on the sidewalk. That was not the experience that Daniel was known for," he also said.
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"In our [then] 28 years, I never would have imagined that we would do more to-go business than serving customers inside the restaurant."
He added, "I think what the government did was strange. Very strange. The government was all over the place and irrational."
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