Kerri Lonergan-Dreke (left) and her mother, Diane Symms, of Lombardi’s Restaurants. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Kerri Lonergan-Dreke (left) and her mother, Diane Symms, of Lombardi’s Restaurants. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Frustrated restaurateur reflects on transformative pandemic

Lombardi’s owner Kerri Lonergan-Dreke is unhappy with government but is coping with the changes COVID brought.

Lombardi’s Restaurants owner Kerri Lonergan-Dreke is part of a vocal group of restaurateurs who had been lobbying Olympia to re-open indoor dining that had been shut down by executive order of the governor for most of the past few months. Starting this week, Gov. Jay Inslee eased those restrictions, allowing up to 25% capacity for indoor seating.

It’s not nearly enough for Lonergan-Dreke.

She’s frustrated with the state’s management of the COVID-19 crisis and sees it as a direct attack on families and smaller operators.

“Aside from the large number of small business owners and their employees forced into financial ruin from COVID shutdowns,” she explains, “the bigger concern is the growing gap between the middle class of businesses in America and the exponential influence of big businesses.”

It’s an emotional issue for her and for many other restaurant owners: “Under Gov. Inslee’s ‘edicts,’ corporate America is thriving while small businesses are dying,” she says.

Macro trends already in play were accelerated by the pandemic, Lonergan-Dreke explains, forcing operators to reach deep into internal operations but also out to the real estate industry as it struggles to make physical adjustments to accommodate necessary changes. “The demand for takeout is here to stay, especially for quick service and casual concepts,” she notes.

Making these adjustments at the same time most restaurants and their landlords have been operating with limited revenue is the challenge.

Trends like a smaller physical footprint and designated areas for takeout and delivery pickup are now necessities. She also anticipates restaurant design will need to incorporate more space between tables for increased guest comfort.

“Bay doors and windows that open to the fresh outside air will become critical design elements to improve indoor air circulation year-round,” Lonergan-Dreke says.

The restaurant business is in Lonergan-Dreke’s blood, so she’s not about to give up her fight with Olympia to fully open up as soon as possible. Her mother, Diane Symms, founded Lombardi’s, so Lonergan-Dreke grew up in a business that for her is about much more than a bottom line.

“The most rewarding aspect of being a restaurant owner is taking part in the positive upbeat vibe of a crowded restaurant, building long-term relationships with loyal guests and within the community, and taking part in the development of staff teams,” Lonergan-Dreke says. She smiles, adding, “Eating delicious Italian food on a regular basis is a nice perk, too.”

Tom Hoban

Tom Hoban

Lonergan-Dreke thinks restaurants will have a particularly important role as we come out of government restrictions.

“During the first shutdown, I was struck with how many of our laid-off staff told me how happy they were to be back at work,” she says. “After the first week or two during the stay-at-home order, many people realized how their sense of purpose had been diminished without a connection to their co-workers, family and community. I’m hopeful that society at large will continue to prioritize spending quality time with family and friends in restaurants. There’s a core human need to connect and it’s particularly strong after prolonged isolation like we’ve experienced.”

Occasional contributor Tom Hoban is chairman and co-founder of Hoban Family Office, a real estate investment and services enterprise in Everett.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

James Berntson shows how his farm uses a trellis system to control tomato plants on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Radicle Roots Farm in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Backyard business: Snohomish farm thrives on less than one acre.

James Berntson grew Radicle Roots Farm using smart crop planning and organic practices.

A group gathers near a blending pit, which is where cow waste and other biodegradable material begins its journey towards becoming energy in a digester Friday, June 17, 2022, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Cow pie power! Monroe manure-to-energy project expands

Qualco has been turning cow poop into electricity since 2008. A new generator could turn on by mid-August.

Fauxy Furr in Arlington, Washington upcycles boots with custom trimmings. Their boots proved popular with customers from overseas. Photographed on February 8, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Accidental exporters’ can tap into federal and state funds

The SBA offers funds and expertise to small companies that hope to boost their export business.

Trays of plants grow inside one of Infarm's vertical farms. Photo credit: Infarm
Growing up: Indoor warehouse farms make inroads in Snohomish County

Vertical farms that use LED lights to grow fresh herbs and salad greens indoors are sprouting up.

Everett
Port of Everett hosting annual open house after pandemic hiatus

Also, Rustic Cork Wine Bar plans to open a second shop at Fisherman’s Harbor — the latest addition to the port’s “wine walk.”

Holly Burkett-Pohland, the owner of Burkett’s Home & Gift, outside of her new store front on Friday, June 17, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Everett gift store debuts in former J. Matheson space

For years, Holly Burkett-Pohland wanted to expand a business founded by her mother in 1978.

Striking Starbucks employees talk to a woman who wanted to use the drive-thru but was turned away due to the strike on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, on Broadway in Everett, Washington. Workers at the 37th and Broadway store spent their morning picketing because a fellow employee had been fired the previous day in what the workers believe is an act of union busting. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett Starbucks workers go on strike after employee fired

The employee and her fellow union members claim she was fired for supporting the union. Starbucks denies it.

X
Property values soar 32% in Snohomish County due to hot housing market

Assessed values are up all across the county since last year. The impact on tax bills won’t be known for a few months.

A Kenmore Air Cessna 208 Caravan. (Kenmore Air) 20220613
Kenmore Air to start daily flights from Paine Field to San Juans

Service begins July 14. Flights to Friday Harbor and Orcas Island airports take about 25 minutes.

Seattle Space Needle sues coffee chain over use of logo

The logo for Local Coffee Spot features a mug of hot coffee whose rising steam bears striking resemblance to the iconic tower.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Foes of state’s capital gains tax drop plans for initiative

I-1929 sponsors say they are confident a lawsuit challenging the legality of the tax will be successful.

Arlington
Smoother sailing: Arlington airport gets grant to fix runway

A $2.3 million federal grant will pave the way for a project to resurface the airfield’s main runway.