The following is an excerpt from a recent interview with YAF alumnus Sergio Vitale, who is now a small business owner in Baltimore, Maryland.
YAF: How you get involved with YAF?
Vitale: I went to Loyola University Maryland from 1994 to 1998, and some friends told me about Young America’s Foundation. I attended the [National Conservative Student Conference] in D.C. and was hooked by the people I met and the quality and tenor of the discussion.
I worked with YAF and attended conferences every year during my collegiate career and also visited the Reagan Ranch.
YAF: Do you have any favorite memories or speakers from YAF conferences?
Vitale: I always enjoyed listening to Walter Williams, who once said, “If you want to save the spotted owl, deep fry it.” That was a memorable line!
It was great to meet members of Congress, often times with their guard down.
YAF: How have the lockdowns impacted your business?
Vitale: I have had a number of restaurants in Maryland over the years, but the one that I operate to this day [Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano] is the first one my family opened in 1998 in Baltimore’s Little Italy.
We had our best February ever in 2020. Now, the cheapest thing for us to do is lock our doors and hibernate for the winter. I had to terminate everyone’s employment just before Christmas because of the [Baltimore] mayor’s order, including people I’ve worked with for over 20 years.
YAF: How have you tried to keep your customers safe during the pandemic?
Vitale: Small independent operators of restaurants took the threat of COVID-19 very seriously. Very early at my restaurant, we voluntarily did everything that is now considered standard protocol. Ironically, one of our only large groups of diners during the pandemic was a group of epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins. We served them in our private dining room at tables of six, six feet apart.
Some restaurants spent $30,000 to build outdoor dining facilities with the guidance and permission of the city, and they have since been shut down by the suspension of outdoor dining.
YAF: Would you agree that a major part of the problem for restaurants and other small businesses is the uncertainty of the government changing the lockdown rules and regulations?
Vitale: Oh, absolutely. How could you plan? The outdoor dining is a great example. Here is a case where our local government partnered with our local small businesses and directed them how exactly to build an outdoor dining facility that would meet their standards. Then they moved the goalpost, pulled the rug out from underneath of us, and all that money was wasted. That kind of uncertainty is not only frustrating and money-losing. It costs jobs. It costs businesses.
YAF: What would you say to elected officials putting these regulations in place?
Vitale: A great start would be for them to live under the same rules they’re forcing us to live under. They might see the damage that they’re causing.
YAF: How can YAF help small business owners?
Vitale: Keep up your important work! Ideas have long-term consequences, and we owe it to the people who came before us to continue the fight. We’ll recover from this pandemic eventually, but the consequences will last a lifetime.