Covid-19 drives restaurant owner to suicideA 57-year-old restaurant owner in Mapo District, western Seoul, was found dead in his apartment last week, apparently committing suicide after failing to keep his business afloat.
"He worked so hard. Leaving this way is too sad," said Kim Su-man, a close friend of the man and a business owner himself.
According to the Yonhap, the man was struggling to pay the restaurant's monthly rent of ten million won ($8,544) and his employees' paychecks since the pandemic hit almost two years ago.
After reportedly borrowing money from acquaintances and taking out loans, he apparently ran out of options.
The police speculated that the man was dead several days before his body was found last Tuesday. The last call on his mobile phone was on Aug. 31.
Restaurant records show that sales dropped by half, then to one-third, as social distancing measures took their toll. Eventually, average daily revenue did not surpass 100,000 won.
"The government tells restaurant owners to take in customers in groups of two at the most and close at nine or ten o'clock," said Kim. "I don't know how they expect us to do business under such strict regulations."
Before Covid-19, the man was considered a success. He opened his first restaurant in Mapo District 22 years ago. Business boomed, and he opened three more.
His charcoal-grilled barbeque restaurant appeared on television programs several times. In good times, it was hard to get into his places.
"For him, work was his life," said Kim. "He barely left his restaurants. I even remember him showing up at my wedding in his restaurant apron."
His funeral was at Hallym University Medical Center in Seoul on Sunday.
Many of past employees attended. They recalled the man fondly.
"When people he knew came to the restaurant, he would always pay for their drinks," said one colleague.
Another, who was a past employee, said, "I remember him giving one employee an advance because she was going through a tough time."
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, 453,000 stores have gone out of business, according to the National Self-Employee Emergency Response Committee, a group supporting the self-employed during the pandemic.
Demanding that the government lengthen business hours and increase the size of allowed groups, over 1,000 store owners held a protest on Wednesday night, as they slowly drove their cars in unison down the streets of Seoul.
If you or someone you know is feeling emotionally distressed or struggling with thoughts of suicide, LifeLine Korea can be contacted at 1588-9191 or the Crisis Counseling Center at 1577-0199. The Seoul Global Center offers English-language counseling, contact 02-2075-4180 (+1) to arrange a session. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
BY KO SUK-HYUN, LEE JIAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]