By Brian Harmon |

The owner of a string of ultra-popular Long Island restaurants, including Besito Mexican in West Islip, is pushing for Congress to create a relief program to assist millions of out-of-work food service workers and restaurants on the brink of collapse.

“The hospitality business has taken an unprecedented hit — all at once, overnight,” said John Tunney, who also owns The Shed, which has West Sayville and Huntington locations, and the Besito Mexican Restaurants in Roslyn and Huntington. “We need financial assistance for our employees and rent abatement for operators at a minimum so the industry survives.”

Tunney is far from alone in this quest. The impact of restaurant closures across Long Island and the country due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has been devastating.

Tunney also noted that the situation affects so many companies and individuals beyond restaurants. Local advertising sites, food and paper goods vendors, farmers and their truckers, printers and cleaning and maintenance crews, to name a few, he said.

“The ripple effect is extensive,” said Tunney, who on Thursday announced the temporary closure of his five Long Island restaurants.

Here’s how you can help

Eater.com developed a letter script  for Americans to write their representative in government and ask for relief for the restaurant industry.

“My name is [YOUR NAME] and I live in [CITY], [ZIP CODE].

Thank you for the leadership you’ve shown in the face of this pandemic. And to your staff members reading this, thank you for all the work you’re putting in right now.

I’m urging you to immediately create a relief program for the restaurant industry and its millions of workers.

Nationwide, over 15 million people work in this industry, many without paid sick leave or health insurance. There have been sweeping layoffs and these workers’ access to unemployment benefits has been uneven. They need government aid in the form of ongoing universal basic income, and relief from rent and protection from eviction. They will not have an easy time finding work in the restaurant industry any time soon.

Small and medium restaurant businesses need immediate rent abatement, tax deferrals, eviction protection, and money. Please create a relief fund these small- and medium-businesses can access, with money they do not owe back.

Do not let a bailout happen that only lets giant fast-food companies survive. McDonald’s has deep pockets. Your favorite neighborhood restaurant doesn’t.

Thank you.”

It was a tough day

Operators of The Shed and Besito restaurants explained on social media how traumatic the decision was to close. But they are determined to reopen as soon as possible.

“We have made the difficult decision to temporarily close our restaurants to prioritize the health & safety of our team, our guests & community, read the announcement. “There was nothing easy about this decision, and we would like to thank our hardworking team and loyal guests for their support.

“We will miss you dearly during this time and more than anything, we look forward to seeing & serving you again very soon,” it continued.

Besito in West Islip opened in 2017, and immediately became a popular hotspot for dinner and cocktails.

Eater.comadvised, “To speak to your Congressional representative or senator, call (202) 224-3121 and give your zip code. You can also useResistbotto contact government officials — simply text the script below to 504-09 and Resistbot will determine who represents you and send an email, fax, or letter on your behalf.”

Photo above: John Tunney with his family, seated for dinner on opening night at The Shed in November.