Local grants help desperate restaurants make ends meet

Restaurants and bars are reopening statewide, but 14 months of rent arrears and other debts incurred during the pandemic have left the industry increasingly desperate for any form of help.

Earlier this month, restaurateurs could start applying for a $ 28.6 billion Federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant, but in 10 days, more than 266,000 people in the hospitality industry had requested more than 65 billions of dollars.. Lobbying organizations such as the Independent Restaurant Coalition are calling on Congress to increase the fund, which has been made available through the US bailout.

Meanwhile, at the local level, smaller local grants are helping restaurants make ends meet.

On Monday, Concerning Her, or RE: Her, a non-profit organization of women restaurateurs and chefs, opened the application process for a new grant program, which will award $ 10,000 to 15 women-owned restaurants. It is funded by DoorDash and is open to independent restaurants in LA County owned by at least 25% women. (None of the founding members of the nonprofit organization can apply for a grant.)

RE: It was founded last fall to support women-owned restaurants and bars across Los Angeles. In January, the group hosted a 10-day food festival and fundraiser featuring collaborations and specials from female chefs and businesses.

“The [federal] The Restaurant Relief Fund is incredibly oversubscribed, ”said Heather Sperling, co-owner of Silver Lake Botanica restaurant and founding member of RE: Her. “I personally look forward to seeing if we eventually get our [federal] grant, but really have no expectations. With these smaller local grants, frankly, every dollar helps. For every food business that has struggled over the past year and is looking to survive and rebuild, any kind of relief money – especially when it doesn’t come with stipulations, guard or strict requirements – is so meaningful.

The culture of seeking and granting grants is familiar in the nonprofit world, but when it comes to the hospitality industry, Sperling said, the words “unconditional catering aid” were not. heard very often before the pandemic.

An independent grant committee made up of restaurateurs and other industry professionals – including Los Angeles Times food columnist Jenn Harris – will select grant recipients through a “blind process,” which will remove them. names of applicants, demographics of their restaurants and other identifying information. Grant recipients will be notified by June 14.

Sperling said the RE: Its Food Festival will return in 2022, and the grants program may return as well.

RE applicants: Its grant must apply by June 2. In addition to being 25% female or female owned to qualify, restaurants must also employ a staff of 50 or less; opened in 2019 or before; lost 25% or more of their pre-COVID-19 gross income in 2020; be currently in a rental or mortgage agreement; and have a pre-COVID-19 gross annual income of less than $ 2,000,000 per restaurant (or maximum $ 4,000,000 per group of restaurants).

Other organizations are launching their own grant programs to help restaurants. This month, the California Restaurant Foundation, a nonprofit associated with the California Restaurant Assn., Announced 318 grant recipients from its own relief fund, which was launched in March. (The program is funded by Southern California Gas Co., Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas and Electric.) The foundation’s new Restaurant Resilience Fund administers $ 3,500 each at independent restaurants in eight counties in California: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Kern, Alameda, Fresno and San Joaquin.

More than 130 of the beneficiaries are located in LA County, and to qualify, the restaurants currently had to operate in some form or another, employ less than 50 people, be a single unit business, and have suffered a loss of at less 20% of turnover in 2020, compared to 2019.

One of the Los Angeles businesses that qualified – and received – a $ 3,500 grant was Hop Woo BBQ & Seafood Restaurant, a mom-and-pop business that opened in Chinatown in 1993 and Who, like so many others in the hospitality industry, has suffered financially since the start of the pandemic. For Mary Liang, the daughter of Hop Woo owners Judy and Lupe Liang, applying for grants has become part of her routine, and the process of gathering information to apply is constant.

“A lot of times when there are grants – or even loans – every time the application comes in, I just put an alarm on my phone, and apply with one eye open and I’m still in bed,” she mentionned.

She estimates that she has applied for at least 20 grant programs to help her parents, who have been paying 50% of Hop Woo’s rent each month since April 2020. With each month, the rent arrears bill grows.

To help pay the rent, the Liangs started an online fundraiser, but the restaurant, Mary Liang said, relied on a variety of smaller, more localized grants – sometimes for amounts as small as 500. $. That amount “could be a utility bill,” she said, adding, “I don’t think we could have done it if we hadn’t gotten help.”

Sometimes, says Mary Liang, she will apply for grants and hear nothing for so many months that she forgets that she applied. Often, she investigates rushed and urgent grant applications from her parents, only to find that they are not eligible; for many programs, including the second round of federal paycheck protection payment assistance, restaurants and bars must have lost at least 25% of their profits in 2020, compared to 2019. of Hop Woo during this period fell about 23%.

This 2% shortfall also disqualifies the restaurant from the RE: Her grant program, but if they did qualify, the Liangs say there is no doubt they would apply.

The family recently received a notification that Hop Woo had received a share of this highly competitive federal restaurant revitalization fund, but no money had been deposited yet – and until it appeared in their bank account. , said Mary Liang, she has learned not to hope. up.

About Christopher Easley

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