Wolfgang Puck paints dire picture for food service industry if Congress doesn't act: 'We can't wait a month'

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Legendary Austria-born chef Wolfgang Puck told Fox News Tuesday that the nationwide near-shutdown of the restaurant business due to the coronavirus pandemic will not only be a disaster for its workers, but will have a ripple effect on the nation's economy in the long term.

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Puck said on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" that the restaurant industry is the largest private-sector employer in America, giving jobs to 15.6 million people nationwide. He added that in a normal year, the food service industry provides $1 trillion to the U.S. economy.

"How are we going to continue this way with no work for so many people?" Puck told host Tucker Carlson. "It's really a tragedy to have so many people out of work, not getting their money."

Puck said Congress must act to protect shuttered restaurants and help them get back on their feet in earnest when the coronavirus contagion subsides, claiming that "insurance companies are wrongfully denying business interruption coverage for all of our businesses."

If the government subsidized that coverage, Puck added, it would ease the pain proprietors are increasingly feeling.

"If every restaurant would go to the government, local, state, or federal [individually] and say 'We need money,' it would be impossible. We would be waiting for ten years," he said.

"We've seen in [the aftermath of Hurricane] Katrina how long it took to get money from the federal government to the people in need. We really need it now. We cannot wait a month."

Puck pointed out that some restaurateurs are letting their employees come by to cook themselves meals while they have no income to spend on food and necessities. He also said that the ability of restaurants in many states to fill takeout and delivery orders helps, but is not feasible long-term.

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Puck added that the entire supply chain will eventually feel the financial pain of a virus-induced shutdown -- pointing to farmers and produce harvesters like Driscoll.

"They are picking strawberries and raspberries every day, because they don't know where to put them. So, it's really not only on us, the whole economy, the whole food business is in trouble, I believe, if the government does not help us."

Puck was joined by Napa Valley chef Thomas Keller, who said the federal government is the most effective vehicle to bring relief to the food service industry right away.

"The most important thing is that the restaurants survive," Keller said.