Help is on the Way for Restaurants

The Small Business Administration is slated to open registration for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund application portal on April 30 and begin accepting applications on May 3, according to an announcement published on the agency’s website.

The fund, which was authorized by Congress as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed in March, avails $28.6 billion in relief to beleaguered bars and restaurants nation-wide. Proprietors with less than 20 locations can apply for up to $10 million in total grant funding through the program. Grants will not exceed $5 million per location.

“Restaurants are the core of our neighborhoods and propel economic activity on main streets across the nation. They are among the businesses that have been hardest hit and need support to survive this pandemic. We want restaurants to know that help is here,” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in a press release on the agency’s website.

The relief comes among other signs of hope for New York City bar and restaurant owners. The state announced Wednesday that it would allow seating at bars beginning May 3 and will begin lifting curfews for bars and restaurants on May 17.

The SBA grants should help ease the situation somewhat further. The grants are open to a variety of food and dining establishments, such as food trucks, caterers and breweries, as long as the entity earns at least 33% of revenues through onsite sales.

The SBA will prioritize processing applications for women and veteran owned small businesses and those owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals for the first 21 days of application processing. All other qualifying applications will be processed following the priority period. The SBA has also set aside a portion of the funds for restaurants with between $50,000 and $1,500,000 in gross receipts for 2019.

As NY City Lens reported, the restaurant bill was the first piece of legislation introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer as Majority Leader and is aimed at shoring up an industry still reeling from losses related to the pandemic. The full details of the program were first made available by the SBA on April 19, and the agency has undertaken a seven-day pilot period prior to opening the application portal to stem any processing glitches prior to the application going live. The application portal for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, a separate program administered by the SBA, encountered technical glitches after its initial opening on April 8th and was recently reopened on April 24 after the SBA resolved the issues.

The program is welcome relief, according to Robert La France, vice president of operations for Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor, and he intends to apply for aid immediately. But the fact still remains that Arts and Crafts is still digging out from a significant year of losses, and La France worries the funds will run out before Arts and Crafts’ application is approved.

Arts and Crafts temporarily shut down its two locations in Greenwich Village and Morningside Heights twice during the pandemic – first in March as the COVID-19 cases began their initial rise, then again in December as the cold temperatures drove outdoor diners away.

“What sustained us was our flexibility,” La France said. “We worked as hard as we could work within the confines of what we were given until we couldn’t function anymore.”

Both shutdowns not only meant a loss in revenue, he said, but also meant staff had to be let go and inventory left to spoil. Each reopening introduced new costs like replenishing kegs, purchasing personal protective equipment and disinfectant solution, and outfitting the sidewalks with outdoor dining structures. La France said that, like many restaurants, Arts and Crafts operated on slim margins even in the best of times leaving little financial backstop to weather the extended catastrophe.

“If anybody pulls anything away from this it is to understand that yeah, sure bars and restaurants were allowed to open. But at what point when your margins are so tight does it even make sense if you are only doing 20 to 30% of the business you would normally do,” he said.

La France said he is optimistic the situation will get better, as the weather improves and vaccine rates rise. “I can see our sales, they’re not blowing up or anything, but I can see they’re heading in the right direction,” he said.

“If we are lucky enough to get a part of this Restaurant Revitalization Fund to make us whole from all of our losses, which in our estimation are substantial, very substantial, that will allow us to survive,” he said. “If not, we’re back to where we were.”