Bryan Morin and his brother Michael have owned Federico's Pizza & Restaurant in Belmar, New Jersey for 26 years. Two weeks ago, Morin took out $50,000 from his bank line of credit. He was worried that the state or local government might impose takeout-only or other restrictions on restaurants, or that they might be forced to close if an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. He wanted to keep paying his full staff no matter what. The move won so much goodwill and good publicity for Federico's that the restaurant is busier than ever.

"Our business is one-third takeout, one-third delivery, and one-third dine in," Bryan says. During off-season, he normally has 20 employees, four of them waitresses who serve in the dining room. Last week, when New Jersey ordered restaurants to either close or switch to takeout-only, there was no more work for waitresses to do and business in general fell off badly, he says. 

But the Morins had the line of credit in hand, along with $30,000 set aside for planned improvements. That was enough, they calculated, to continue paying employees for two months, even if the business was shuttered altogether. "So we called all our servers and said, 'We don't need you until further notice, but don't worry. You'll still receive a paycheck so you can pay your bills." In the case of the waitresses, that paycheck would include some extra money to cover some of the tips that usually make up most of their compensation. (Side note: If you're getting takeout or delivery these days, please consider giving a generous tip.)

"We exploded"

Since most restaurants and retailers were laying off or furloughing workers, news of the Morins' generosity spread. There was a story in the Star-Ledger and an appearance on Fox News. "We exploded," Bryan says. "The volume of people just calling, saying they wanted to make donations, people driving 45 miles to pick up a pizza to support we called our servers and said, 'Come in and answer the phones.'" The Morins set up a donation page on Venmo so that those who wanted could contribute funds either to help pay their employees or to pay for food to be delivered to local hospital workers and first responders. 

I first learned about Morin on a small-business episode of the daily webcast about responding to Covid-19 that runs simultaneously on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn daily at 2 p.m. Eastern. It's hosted by social-media guru Sree Sreenivasan and it's well worth checking out. 

What will the owners do if the restrictions last more than two months? "I would not hesitate to draw even more money out of our credit line," Bryan says. Many of Federico's employees have been with the restaurant for decades, he adds. One delivery person has worked there 22 years, and the restaurant manager has worked there for 12 years, having started out answering phones when she was 15. Bryan says he considers his employees extended family. 

The Morins may be particularly well positioned to weather the crisis, having started out in good financial shape. Still, their story holds a lesson that's easy to forget in these worrisome times: If you choose generosity over fear, many people will be generous in return. 

"My main message to other small business owners is: Hold on," Bryan says. "A lot of people came to the conclusion that the only way to survive is to lay everybody off. If you have the means, take the money out and try and keep paying those salaries. The federal government will eventually help out, whether through grants or loans." That's very wise advice, since the bipartisan stimulus package that just passed in the Senate and is likely to pass in the House offers aid--to businesses that retain their employees.