CHERRY HILL, NJ — After standing as a South Jersey staple for nearly 50 years, Ponzio’s Diner in Cherry Hill has been forced to close temporarily. Now, the owners have started an online fundraiser to help employees who have been laid off during the breakout of new coronavirus.
As of Thursday morning, the Ponzio’s Employee Relief Fund had raised more than $6,400 for employees who were laid off when the diner was forced to close temporarily on March 16 after standing on Route 70 near the old Ellisburg Circle for about 45 years.
“This pandemic is impacting the livelihood of our employees,” Ponzio’s owner and fund organizer Nick Fifis said. “We have 115 employees who work hard each day they come to work. They are the backbone of Ponzio’s, and the reason for our success over the last 56 years. Some of you have called and asked how you could help. The amount of love and support we have felt from our customers is overwhelming.”
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Ponzio’s made the decision not to stay open for take-out and delivery to ensure the safety and health of their staff, patrons and community, the owners said when they announced the closing on March 16.
They have several employees over the age of 50, and Cherry Hill has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Camden County. Read more here: Child Among 6 New Coronavirus Cases In Cherry Hill
The day after they closed, they went in and sanitized the diner. Employees were able to take home food that was still in the diner. Making sure employees have some income while the diner is closed is a daunting task, though.
“They’re not getting their full paycheck from unemployment, and this was sudden,” Fifis said.
Paying every employee would cost more than $50,000 a week, and owners still have to compensate for food loss and other expenses that come with owning a restaurant, Fifis said. They will also miss the revenue generated from Easter and Mother's Day. Closing for even just two days can have a negative impact on a restaurant's revenues for a whole year, Fifis said.
The owners are not taking a paycheck right now, and they are not taking any donations from the online fundraiser; all the money goes directly to the employees. They contributed some of the money to the campaign themselves. Fifis doesn’t believe Ponzio’s will qualify for a small business loan because of the number of employees they have.
“These are very uncertain times,” Fifis said. “ … We’re just trying to make sure they have jobs they can come back to.”
Donations represent gifts to Ponzio’s employees, and the money will be distributed accordingly, the owners said.
“Thank you for the unwavering support and generosity during these trying times,” Fifis said. “We will get through this together and look forward to serving our customers again soon. Any contribution is appreciated, and 100 percent of the proceeds will be directly given to our employees.”
Fifis does believe that when the order to close restaurants across the state is lifted, customers will come back quick. He believes Ponzio's will be ready to open within two days of that.
"I think people will come out of the wood work," Fifis said, comparing the situation to the cabin fever people get during a snow storm. "We're going to open when we know our kitchen can handle the influx."
To donate to the fund, visit gofundme.com.
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