Help is on the way for struggling restaurants and bars in the form of a grant, not a loan.
The U.S. Small Business Administration will open applications for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund on Monday, May 3. The online application will remain open to any eligible establishment until all funds are exhausted.
“To know this money is available to us for all that time lost, we are ecstatic,” said chef Taylor Mason.
She launched Taylor’s Tacos Chicago, with her now wife, Maya, in 2018. The pop-up catering company specializes in street tacos. Because they don’t have a physical restaurant or any employees, Mason says they didn’t qualify for Paycheck Protection Program loans.
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“March 2020 was probably the scariest time of our business life," Mason said. “ We lost over 95% of our contracted gigs and business.”
“Now this Restaurant Revitalization Fund is exactly what we’ve been waiting for and something that will be super beneficial to our business because of everything we went through,” she said.
"We are opening up our own location finally this year," said Maya Mason, co-owner.
"To have money to pay employees, build outs, to sustain, to open our first business, I think it’s going to be a good year. But, we would not be able to do that without proper funding help. We couldn’t do it on our own," Maya said.
It’s not just restaurant owners who qualify, though. Brew pubs, wineries and caterers, like Mason, are also eligible to apply. Any business where people come together to consumer food or beverage qualify, according to the Small Business Association.
“These awards are up to $5 million per eligible entity. It’s not a loan. It does not have to be paid back. It’s very much like a grant,” said Robert Steiner, the district director of the Illinois branch of the Small Business Administration.
Established under the American Rescue Plan, and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, the RRF provides a total of $28.6 billion in direct relief funds to restaurants and other hard-hit food establishments that have experienced economic distress and significant operational losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This program will provide restaurants with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location.
“We’re really trying to make sure the most impacted businesses are able to access the program,” Steiner said.
Initially, three groups will prioritized among applicants, which are businesses owned by women, veterans or socially and economically disadvantaged people.
Mary Aregoni, Saigon Sisters owner, said it’s time to prioritize marginalized businesses.
“I feel like it’s fair to give it to people who need it most,” Aregoni said. “Loans are nice, but we need grants. We need a major influx of money to stay alive and pay past bills and dues in the future to stay open.”
Aregoni runs three locations with her mother and sister. They’ve been in business for 11 years and are popular among the lunchtime business crowd in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. The pandemic halted not only her walk-in business but also catering. Aregoni said in six months, without this help, she may have to shutter the business.
She said she plans to apply for federal assistance through RRF as soon as it opens.
“It’s going to be a huge help for the restaurant industry. It’s something we’ve been waiting for,” said Aregoni.
Recipients are not required to repay the funding as long as funds are used for eligible uses no later than March 11, 2023. Operators have a lot more flexibility in how they can use the money compared to PPP loans.
Funds may be used for specific expenses including business payroll costs, mortgage payments, rent, utilities, maintenance, construction of outdoor seating, supplies and food and beverage supplies, among other operating expenses.
Applications will open on Monday, May 3 at 11 a.m.