Not enough money for the restaurant revitalization fund prolongs the struggles for local operators in the hard-hit industry | Food News | Spokane | The Pacific Northwest Inlander
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Owners Lisa and Scott Poole qualified for $ 600,000 in federal aid but didn’t get any.
When long-awaited federal aid to the country’s pandemic-stricken restaurant industry was finally available in May through the $ 28.6 billion restaurant revitalization fund, restaurants across the inland Northwest thought help was finally here.
For some it was. According to the US Small Business Administration, which oversaw the application and distribution process, more than 230 restaurants in Inlander’s coverage area of eastern Washington and northern Idaho received approximately $ 53 million in federal aid.
Individual grants, which range from $ 3,400 to a Boba tea store in Pullman to more than $ 3 million received by restaurants under the Davenport Hotel roof, were calculated based on a company’s estimated 2020 gross loss in sales, minus any funds from the federal paycheck protection program.
Money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) can be spent by recipients through March 2023 and can be used to cover both past and future operating expenses, including employee paychecks, rent, supplies, personal protective equipment, and even the construction of seating outdoors.
Unfortunately, more than half of the 370,000 US restaurants that originally competed never got that financial lifeline. Only about 105,000 RRF applicants received funding before the $ 28.6 billion pool was depleted. Total demand exceeded $ 75 billion. Calls for Congress to replenish the RRF for one more round to help missed businesses have been loud since then.
In Spokane, one of those many unfunded inquiries came from Poole’s public house, a sports bar and restaurant with locations on South Hill and Northside.
Co-owner Lisa Poole says Poole’s RRF filing showed the company lost $ 1.1 million in gross revenue in 2020 and qualified to receive $ 600,000.
“We’re still trying to make up for this loss of sales through no fault of our own,” says Poole. “We had to close, and this loss is money we can’t pay our staff and rent, and that’s a lot of money for a restaurant.”
While Poole received a Paycheck Protection Program or PPP loan, the first round of the federal program required that the funds be used within eight weeks.
“We are very happy that we were able to stay afloat thanks to PPP and that we received great support from our customers,” says Poole. “But the RRF would help make up for the huge losses we still suffered and keep the business going. We lost all of our savings – we had to go out of our way to stay afloat.”
Poole says she believes the distribution of the RRF could be better handled by the SBA and should have given priority to all small and medium-sized businesses.
Priority, however, was given to applicants from restaurants with a majority female, veteran, and racial minority group. When it became clear that demand from all applicants, including non-priority groups, far exceeded the RRF’s assignments, two white male business owners, represented by former Trump administration officials Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows, sued the SBA, arguing, that moving women, veterans, and minorities to the front of the line was discriminatory.
As a result, a judge in Texas ordered the SBA to stop distributing outstanding funds to companies in the priority demographic, which meant that many of those restaurant owners who had previously been approved were notified that they would no longer receive a grant. It is unclear how many local restaurants were affected, and the Spokane SBA office has no information on those affected.
Kori Henderson and Paul Blacketer, owners of the Whim Wine Bar in River Park Square, had also been desperately hoping for an RRF grant. The couple’s business did not qualify for the paycheck protection program because the opening date was after the eligibility limit in late summer 2019. Just months later, Whim closed for more than a year, from March 2020 to late May 2021. The day after the RRF applied for, Henderson told the domestic that if Whim were approved, “all of our problems would be solved”.
After waiting weeks for a response from the SBA, Whim never received anything.
“It is impossible for me to put into words the massive disappointment of not receiving the funds,” says Henderson now. “To dangle in front of us what we were finally entitled to after all this time, it’s just crazy. I would have preferred it if it weren’t available to us at all than to experience this disappointment.”
Like Poole, Henderson wishes the money had been more equitably distributed among companies.
“I want every company to survive this, but I think the money could have been more evenly distributed,” says Henderson. “There are restaurants that have received enormous sums of money from RRF after receiving other loans and grants that we were not eligible for.”
As the spread of the coronavirus delta variant continues to lead to record hospital stays in the US, Henderson also fears that there could be additional closures or restrictions for restaurants and bars in the coming weeks and months. She has already noticed that since Whim reopened earlier this summer, business has slowed down again. At the time, she had hoped that the increased availability of the vaccine would bring stability to small businesses.
“It’s really unpredictable. That should be over now that there’s a vaccine,” she says. “There is so much misinformation out there. It kills people and it kills companies.”
“To dangle in front of us what we were finally entitled to after all this time, it’s just crazy. I would have preferred it if it weren’t available to us at all than to experience this disappointment.”
Among the restaurants in the northwest of the country that have received money from the Relief Fund restaurant is the Spokane-based chain Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar.
Twigs, with four locations in the Spokane area, received the second highest RRF award in the area at approximately $ 2.4 million, behind the Davenport Hotel’s $ 3.1 million, according to the SBA. Regardless, the Twigs Vancouver, Washington location received $ 1.7 million requested at the Spokane headquarters address, although those funds must be used for that location, says Twigs President Trevor Blackwell.
While that’s a large sum compared to most of RRF’s revenue in the region (the average award in the region was about $ 226,000), Blackwell says the company still had to close three of its locations outside of Washington state – two in Utah and one in Texas. And he says the Twigs grant amount directly reflects the company’s lost revenue in 2020.
“It doesn’t even cover all of the losses we’ve had; the sites that didn’t get one had debts and obligations we owe, ”says Blackwell. “It was extremely difficult. And on top of that, trying to run the restaurants we currently have – I’ve been cooking on the line for the last three days in a row in Vancouver because we don’t have enough staff. ”
At least one local RRF recipient has closed since receiving his award, the French restaurant Fleur de Sel in Post Falls, which received $ 158,775.
A local restaurant that was at the center of controversy when it opposed the Washington Gov. ban twice last year. Resisting Jay Inslee for the in-person on-site dining, The Black Diamond in Spokane Valley received $ 486,867 from the RRF. While other restaurants in the area were serving nationwide orders from March 2020 and again in November 2020, Black Diamond owner Brandon Fenton broke the restrictions and opened his bar anyway, risking his liquor license being suspended.
Fenton, who is now running for a seat on Spokane Valley City Council against current Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick, says federal funding has helped his company and employees recover from both closings he finds the venue was originally complied with.
“It’s not fair for a store to shut down, and it pains me that some have shut down permanently,” says Fenton. “As a company, we suffered from the shutdown and therefore applied for help like so many others. The aid must not depend on our political stance or how we help our employees to have a Christmas party “with presents for their children under the tree.”
While restaurant operators may be cautious, more federal aid may be on the way.
Since the first round of the RRF expired, three bipartisan attempts have been made in Congress to replenish the fund. The last attempt in early August for a replenishment of $ 48 billion was blocked. Two previous unsuccessful attempts were each aimed at adding $ 60 billion to the RRF.
Washington Hospitality Association President Anthony Anton says he and his team have “worked really hard to refill the remaining applicants through Congress,” and that all members of the Washington State Congressional Delegation are currently supporting the call.
“We hope that the Restaurant Relief Fund will not be included in this upcoming package, but in the following package,” says Anton.
Meanwhile, local restaurants that were unable to get help during the first round of the RRF are encouraged to contact the Spokane SBA office to see if they are eligible for other local, state, or federal aid programs, says the manager Joel Nania.
“We work with all companies that ask us for help,” says Nania. “We have a number of other programs available.” ♦