COVID-19  January 8, 2021

Interview with Dave Query, chief pot stirrer of Big Red F

Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to participate in a question and answer feature to help shed light on a business topic, an industry or add insight to a field of endeavor. This month, Dave Query, founder and “chief pot stirrer” of the Big Red F, answers our questions.

BizWest: The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the restaurant industry hard, as you know. How do you think restaurants can best balance economic needs and health/safety concerns?

Dave Query: This question sounds like it is from May — but the answer is still the same. No one in the restaurant industry wants to put our staff or our guests at risk. Big box stores are all open with customers brushing up against one another, 1,000 airline flights a day with 350 people sitting shoulder to shoulder, and restaurants are shut down across the country. We can control our environments in a restaurant better than any of those examples. A strong culture of safety protocol and practice needs to be in place for any business to ask guests inside. But the restaurant industry is being unfairly targeted. The science and facts are in — we are not a spreader. If it’s some big bar with folks unmasked and ownership being reckless and negligent putting staff and guests at risk, fine them and shut them down. But those rogue idiots shouldn’t give an entire industry a bad rep.

BizWest: What do restaurants need to stay viable and keep staff members employed?

Query: To be able to conduct business. Carry out and delivery cannot sustain restaurants. We are trying to keep employees working and able to pay their bills. We have occupancy costs and overhead that have not been meaningfully reduced, even though we have a mandated inability to conduct business in our dining rooms. I don’t think restaurants are looking for anything better or more preferred than any other industry, but we are looking for at least the same. The airline industry employs 620,000 people in the U.S. and generated $250 billion in 2019. The restaurant industry employees 13.5 million in the U.S. and generates $863 billion in annual revenues. But it’s the airline industry that gets a focused bailout from the Feds, for the second time in 12 years.

BizWest: You’ve got a variety of restaurants. Are there themes that are underdeveloped in the communities you serve?

Query: Sure. As always, there are always underdeveloped businesses opportunities in every community. I think in this COVID era, restaurants that have travel friendly food at great prices that can be enjoyed today and tomorrow, are going to continue to do well. As to concerns in the community — food insecurity is a huge problem in every community right now. You talk to managers of food banks and community pantries and they just aren’t even close to meeting the demand that’s out there. We recently activated a program called BRFeeds Our Community, where we collect donations from our guests ordering online and then use those to pay our staff to prepare food that we distribute to local food banks. It’s a drop in the bucket, but it feels good to be doing something positive right now.

BizWest: Were it not for the pandemic, what would you be looking to accomplish in 2021?

Query: I would love to improve my Spanish. I’d like to be able to walk 25 yards doing a handstand. And I want to catch the biggest and most aggressive fish, everytime I go fishing. And I think the most important accomplishment would be to continue to fall in love with my wife more today, than yesterday. And, open more restaurants.

BizWest: What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter the hospitality industry with a restaurant?

Query: Buy a lawn mower and start a landscaping business. 

BizWest: Anything else that you’d like to share?

Query: Safety and safety minded procedures and protocols are paramount to us getting through this. It is vitally important that as restaurants start to gain back occupancy, that we are even more diligent with cleanliness and sanitation than ever. Restaurant employees have to be smart. Wearing a mask all day at work and staying distanced and safe is all erased when you go to a bar or party after work and hang out for hours unmasked and drinking. These restaurants, all businesses, are only as successful as their entire family of employees. Staying healthy and not putting the business at risk is really important and critical for the continued success of any business. Gotta be smart.

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