More than 40,000 eateries across the country have applied already for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund’s $28.6 billion in grant money, according to a report Tuesday in the restaurant trade journal FSR Magazine.
Potential applicants had to register with the SBA by last Friday to qualify for an application when the program opened at noon Monday.
The RRF initiative, part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act that became law in March, is designed to bolster the nation’s restaurants that have suffered financially during more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions.
Beer Barrio is one of those applicants. Co-owner Hayley Jensen has determined her spending priorities, should the downtown Wilmington restaurant receive a grant.
“The Restaurant Revitalization program has stipulations about what you can spend [the money] on,” she said. “You can use it on equipment, and we need a new cooler and a new margarita machine, which together cost about $10,000. It’s nice they are allowing us to spend on things like equipment. We applied for and got a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but that had a lot of stipulations and was mainly designed for payroll expenses. It’s nice to be able to have various programs that are going to help us with all the associated expenses of keeping our doors open during the pandemic.”
Chicago-based food industry research firm Datassential reported in late March that 10.2% of U.S. food establishments have closed permanently since the pandemic began. That’s nearly 80,000 locations at all levels of service, from food trucks to fast food to fine dining. Those that are hanging on have rushed to apply for RRF grants, according to the FSR Magazine article.
Ray Worrell, owner of Wilmington’s Slice of Life Pizzeria and Pub restaurants, joined Beer Barrio and others in Monday’s application stampede.
“We will spend the money mainly on payroll, rent and utilities,” he said of his hoped-for grant. “Whatever is left over, I think I will use to buy food.”
All those expenses can be paid with RRF grants. Allowable expenditures, according to the SBA RRF website
, include costs for business payroll and benefits, business mortgage or rent, business debt service, utilities, construction of outdoor seating, food and beverage and other business supplies, supplier costs, building maintenance and operations. Grant recipients have until March 11, 2023 to spend their funds. Any amount unspent by that date will have to be returned to the SBA.
The application process was relatively easy, Worrell said.
“The site was very intuitive and worked very well, except that, after noon when so many people were trying to apply, it crashed briefly,” he said. “What was great too, prior to [the SBA launching the program], they had several webinars. They posted the application and went through it the week before, so you knew what to expect. If you had applied for a PPP loan, you put your Employer Identification Number in and your PPP information automatically populated.”
Worrell added that the site allows applicants to log in and track the progress of their applications.
“Right now, mine is in review. If I receive a grant, the money will be direct deposited to my bank account," he said.
The SBA will give processing priority to small businesses that are majority owned by women, veterans or individuals who are socially or economically disadvantaged. There are amounts in the funding pool set aside for smaller businesses, based on their 2019 gross receipts.
With their RRF applications out of the way and with further easing of restaurant capacity restrictions, Jensen and Worrell are focused on finding the staff they need to operate at full scale. For a variety of reasons, many former hospitality workers have not come flooding back into the job market. Worrell said.
“Everyone has that issue right now,” he added. “We’re staying open only until 11 p.m. instead of 3 a.m. because we don’t have the staff to stay open those extra hours. Some restaurants, like the Copper Penny, are closed on Sundays. Some breweries are closed on Mondays. “
Jensen said Beer Barrio has been fortunate.
“We have a core staff that has been with us for several years – several who have been with us since day one, and this core staff essentially runs the restaurant,” she said. “Have I had trouble getting that third or fourth dishwasher? Yes.”
Beer Barrio has not been fully open for more than a year, and crunch time is coming, she added.
Jensen said, “Cinco de Mayo is a huge day for us. Memorial Day weekend is coming up. So, we are a little short, but have never reached the point of having to close a couple of days per week like some restaurants.”