CNBC Meets

Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck warns that 25% of small restaurants may never reopen

Key Points
  • Puck was announced as a member of President Trump's Great American Economic Revival Industry in April. 
  • But Puck told CNBC he doesn't think the U.S. is taking quick enough action against the coronavirus.
VIDEO5:3605:36
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck: Trump should take control of coronavirus crisis

Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck told CNBC that President Donald Trump needs to take control of the Covid-19 crisis in the U.S. after a spike in cases across some states in recent days. 

Puck, whose flagship U.S. restaurants include Spago, Beverly Hills, and Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, said he was "really nervous" that a federal program was not in place to stop the spread of the virus. 

"In the U.S. every state really has different laws and different openings and closings. Instead of having a federal program, every governor, the counties, they are out and do what they think is right," he said. "I really believe that the president should take control, get in a meeting with all the governors and say if we are not doing this together, we might never get rid of it." 

The White House was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC. 

In April, Puck was announced as a member of one of Trump's Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups with a focus on charting "a future of unparalleled American prosperity." 

But since speaking to the president alongside other chefs and restaurateurs about a recovery in the industry, Puck told CNBC he doesn't think the U.S. is taking quick enough action against the pandemic, and many small restaurants will be forced to close for good. 

"He was listening very attentively when we talked to him, but at the end of the day: Show me the money. Show me that you do actually something. So now we have a bill in Congress for the insurance companies to pay business interruption insurance, but when something goes through Congress who knows when that's going to go better?" Puck said.  

"Probably 25% of the small restaurants are never going to open again. They're going to stay closed, because they ran out of money and the landlords are evicting them and so forth. So it's really a tough time." 

VIDEO6:1006:10
Chef Wolfgang Puck discusses the coronavirus' impact on the restaurant industry

Puck, whose business empire includes the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Wolfgang Puck Catering, and Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, said he also told the president that there was a need to incentivize customers to return to restaurants by making business meals tax deductible once again. 

Trump has voiced his support for such a tax break, which he said would have a "big impact" on boosting the hard-hit restaurant industry, post-Covid-19. The industry has not received any targeted relief packages from the federal government, however.  

The sector has relied on the general $2.2 trillion stimulus package known as the CARES Act, signed by the president in March, where employers of 500 staff or fewer can benefit from the federal Payroll Protection Programs, and impacted employees are entitled to an additional $600 weekly unemployment payment and a one-time stimulus check. 

Food and beverage businesses are waiting to see what support a further stimulus bill, expected before the end of July, may bring. 

Puck recently reopened his first European restaurant venture, Cut at 45 Park Lane in London, following the U.K.'s easing of lockdown restrictions. His other flagship restaurants are slowly reopening in line with local Covid-19 social-distancing rules, which now often involves moving the dining experience outside. 

VIDEO5:3705:37
Chef Wolfgang Puck discusses Trump's response to the anti-racism protests

Puck said current rules could limit the capacity of food and beverage businesses by 50%. The U.S. restaurant industry is one of the nation's largest private-sector employers, with a workforce of 15.6 million. 

Born in Austria, Puck found huge success in the U.S. and now employs 5,000 people worldwide. He told CNBC he's worried about the economy. 

"We worry totally about unemployment. You know, to get the economy back on track is really the most important thing. What does the federal government do to incentivize people to go out again?" he said.