Bubba Restaurant Celebrates Economic Recovery with PRIDE

Chris Diebel, co-owner and managing partner of Bubba restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa.

Pride is a common theme these days for Chris Diebel. The co-owner and managing partner of Bubba is proud of the restaurant industry’s resiliency and ongoing support of the LGBTQ community despite a very challenging year.

His positive outlook resonates as the nation celebrates the LGBTQ community during PRIDE Month. Although statistics on LGBTQ-owned businesses are scarce, there is no doubt of their economic impact.

In its “America’s LGBTQ Economy” report, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce estimates there are more than 1.4 million LGBTQ-owned businesses with an economic impact of $1.7 trillion. The LGBTQ business community’s influence continues to grow as America embraces more diversity, equity, and inclusion business policies. Chris credits the hospitality industry’s long history as a safe refuge for the LGBTQ community.

As a leading LGBTQ business owner and advocate in Iowa, he is proud of the significant representation among Bubba’s own staff and management team.

Bubba started in 2013 as a pop-up operation at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines, which sold out every night. It took another three years of planning and refining the southern food concept, as well as identifying the right location that made sense financially. Along the way, Chris worked with industry mentors to revise his business plan and financials multiple times.

Unfortunately, like in many other states, the Iowa restaurant industry was especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the closures of so many restaurants. Focusing on the unknown forced the popular restaurant to constantly pivot. The business reorganized based on social distancing guidelines and offered a limited menu to control costs.

Thanks to two forgivable U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loans through Earlham Bank and a grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Bubba was able to keep the lights on, cover a lot of expenses, and bring back many of its 34 employees. A recent SBA Restaurant Revitalization Fund award is now positioning Bubba for the next stage of economic recovery.

Chris said Governor Kim Reynolds’ actions allowing “to go” cocktail sales likely saved a lot of restaurants that couldn’t make it on takeout and delivery orders alone. Those sales provided a critical revenue stream for the restaurant industry when  it needed a lifeline.

Chris is also grateful for the Iowa Restaurant Association’s advocacy throughout the pandemic. The organization kept its members informed of state and national policies and was a calming influence during a stressful period. Having a peer group as a sounding board was comforting as the industry came together as one.

Bubba is open for business, but the long-term challenges remain as the restaurant industry continues to navigate the pandemic’s impact. Restaurants located in downtown Des Moines depend on the local workforce and business travelers for their lunch business. Revenues are down significantly with employees working remotely and not traveling. And the closures of several performing arts venues also had a domino effect on downtown restaurants.

As the restaurant industry continues to recover, Chris  encourages business owners to be proactive in preparing for the next pandemic. One of the biggest lessons he says he learned is having the appropriate level of cash reserves to operate during a shutdown.

Despite the tough year, Chris relishes the experience.

“I will take these lessons with me for the rest of my life,” Chris said. “No one person can do it alone.”