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Rich Socialist Restaurateur Lays Off Hundreds Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal
Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal / Wikimedia Commons

A socialism-themed restaurant chain in Washington, D.C., run by a multimillionaire former mayoral candidate laid off hundreds of staffers this week due to the city's coronavirus restrictions, according to reports.

Andy Shallal, a restaurateur who unsuccessfully ran for D.C. mayor in 2014, said he was forced to let go hundreds of waiters and other employees at Busboys and Poets, his chain of six restaurants and bookstores across the city, according to DCist. Shallal, a longtime advocate for mandatory paid sick leave and minimum wage hikes, has hosted events at his restaurants for former convicted Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, former U.S. Communist Party leader Angela Davis, and a Venezuelan government reception honoring the legacy of Hugo Chavez.

"This is dramatic. This is not a joke," Shallal told DCist, adding that he is applying for loans from the D.C. government to keep the business afloat. "How's that going to play out?" he asked the outlet. "It's going to break the bank, but someone needs to come through."

Shallal told the outlet that he is also looking at government programs that can help his former employees and said they are welcome to get free lunches at any of his open locations.

On Saturday, Busboys and Poets addressed the coronavirus concerns on its Twitter feed, writing that it enacted "enhanced cleaning protocols." The chain also said that it provides "paid sick leave for all employees." "We are proud to have been at the forefront of this movement in Washington, D.C.," said the restaurant group.

The message drew praise from social justice advocates on Twitter, with one writing: "I knew I could count on @busboysandpoets to respond appropriately. All restaurants should do these things."

DCist reported that the layoffs took place on Monday, two days after the post. Shallal addressed the layoffs on his own Twitter profile on Tuesday.

"S—t's getting real. Doing carry out and on line only at this point @busboysandpoets," he wrote. "Had to do layoffs. Trying to stay buoyant and hoping this won’t last."

Mayor Muriel Bowser shut down on-site service at bars and restaurants in D.C. on Monday due to fears of coronavirus transmission. The new restrictions are having a devastating impact on the city's hospitality industry, and many restaurants are being forced to shut their doors and lay off staff.

Bowser dismissed Shallal as a "rich socialist" when the two were running against each other for mayor in 2014.

At the time, Shallal estimated that his net worth was between $12 million and $15 million. He said he was inspired to run for office because he didn't believe the city was doing enough to force companies like Walmart to raise their minimum wage for employees. Although he won the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, he garnered just 3.3 percent in the Democratic primary.

Shallal has hosted controversial speakers and events at his venues, including a group called DC 9/11 Truth. The organization describes the Sept. 11 attacks as a "false flag operation" and said it works "to disseminate the evidence proving involvement of U.S. government officials and U.S. allies in the attacks of 9/11." The restaurant also hosted a commemoration for the "Freedom Flotilla," a group of boats carrying anti-Israel activists that initiated a violent altercation with the Israeli military in 2010.

In 2015, Angela Davis spoke at Busboys and Poets in defense of convicted cop killers Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh. In 1969, Odeh was convicted of a supermarket bombing that killed two Israelis.

Shallal is a vocal critic of Israel. He has accused the country of "terrorizing the Middle East" by "ethnically cleans[ing]" Palestinians. He also claimed that the U.S. government receives its "marching orders from Tel Aviv."