Wlong-awaited federal aid hen for the pandemic-stricken national restaurant industry finally became available in May thanks to the $ 28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, restaurants in the Northwest Interior thought help was finally coming. the.
For some, it was. According to data released by the US Small Business Administration, which oversaw the application and distribution process, more than 230 restaurants in the inside Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho coverage area received approximately $ 53 million of this federal aid.
Individual grants, ranging from $ 3,400 given to a boba tea shop in Pullman to more than $ 3 million received by restaurants under the auspices of the Davenport Hotel, were determined by calculating the estimated gross revenue losses. of a business in 2020, minus any federal paycheck funding. Protection program.
Money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, or RRF, can be spent by beneficiaries until March 2023 and can be used to cover past and future operational costs, including employee paychecks, rent, expenses. supplies, personal protective equipment and even the construction of outdoor seating.
Unfortunately for more than half of the 370,000 restaurants in the United States who initially applied, that financial lifeline never came. Only about 105,000 RRF applicants secured funding before the $ 28.6 billion reserve was exhausted. Total demand exceeded $ 75 billion. Calls to Congress to replenish the RRF for another round of failed business aid have been strong ever since.
In Spokane, one of the many unfunded requests came from Poole’s Public House, a sports bar and restaurant with locations on South Hill and Northside.
Co-owner Lisa Poole said Poole’s RRF claim indicated that the company had lost $ 1.1 million in gross revenue in 2020 and was eligible to receive $ 600,000.
“We’re still trying to recoup this lost income, through no fault of our own,” Poole said. “We were forced to close, and that loss is money that we can’t pay employees and rent, and you know, that’s a lot of money for a restaurant.”
Although Poole’s received a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, the first round of the federal program required the funds to be used within eight weeks.
“We feel really lucky to have been able to stay afloat thanks to PPP, and we have received great support from our customers,” says Poole. “But the RRF would help offset the significant losses we still suffered and help us continue to run the business. We lost all of our savings – we had to use it all to stay afloat.”
Poole says she believes RRF distribution could have been better managed by the SBA and should have prioritized all small and medium businesses.
Priority was given, however, to applicants from restaurants owned by majority women, veterans and racial minorities. Once it became clear that demand from all applicants, including non-priority groups, far exceeded allocations from the RRF, two white male business owners, represented by former Trump administration officials, Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows sued the SBA, arguing that relocating women, veterans and minorities on the front lines were discriminatory.
As a result, a Texas judge ordered the SBA to stop distributing overdue funds to businesses in the priority demographic, meaning many restaurateurs who had already been approved were told they would no longer receive a subsidy. . It is not known how many, if any, local restaurants were affected, and the SBA office in Spokane does not have information on those affected.
Kori Henderson and Paul Blacketer, owners of the Whim Wine Bar in River Park Square, were also desperate to receive a grant from the RRF. The couple’s business was not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program as its opening date in late summer 2019 was after the eligibility deadline. A few months later, Whim closed for more than a year, from March 2020 to the end of May 2021. The day after his application for RRF, Henderson told the Interior that if Whim was approved, “that would solve all our problems.”
After weeks of waiting for a response from the SBA, Whim never received anything.
“It is impossible for me to put into words the massive disappointment that I did not receive the funds,” Henderson says now. “To have this in front of us, something we were finally eligible for after all this time, it’s just crazy.
Like Poole, Henderson wants the money to have been distributed more evenly among companies.
“I want all businesses to survive this, but I think the money could have been distributed more evenly,” said Henderson. “There are restaurants that have received huge sums of money from RRF, having already received other loans and grants that we were not eligible for.”
As the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to cause record hospitalizations across the United States, Henderson also fears there may be additional blockages or restrictions for restaurants and bars in weeks and months. future. She has already noticed that business has slowed down again since Whim reopened in early summer. At the time, she had hoped that the increasing accessibility of the vaccine would bring more stability to small businesses.
“It’s really unpredictable. It should be over now that there is a vaccine,” she said. “There is so much misinformation out there. It kills people and kills businesses.”
“To have this in front of us, something that we were finally eligible for after all this time, it’s just crazy.
Among the restaurants in the northwest of the interior this made receive money from the Restaurant Relief Fund is the Spokane Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar-based chain.
Twigs, with four locations in the Spokane area, received the region’s second-highest RRF award with around $ 2.4 million, according to the SBA, behind the Davenport Hotel’s $ 3.1 million. Separately, Twigs’ location in Vancouver, Wash. Also received $ 1.7 million, which was requested from the company’s Spokane headquarters address, although these funds must be used for this location, said Twigs chairman Trevor Blackwell.
While this is a significant sum compared to the bulk of RRF revenue in the region (the average reward in the region was around $ 226,000), Blackwell says the company has yet to shut down three of its sites. outside of Washington State – two in Utah and one in Texas. . And, he says, the amount of Twigs’ grant directly reflects the company’s lost sales in 2020.
“It doesn’t even cover all of the losses we have suffered; the locations that did not receive any had debts and obligations that we owe,” Blackwell said. “It has been extremely difficult. And on top of that, trying to run the restaurants that we still have right now – I’ve been in Vancouver cooking for three consecutive days because we don’t have enough food. staff.”
At least one local RRF recipient has closed since receiving its award, the French restaurant in Post Falls Fleur de Sel, which received $ 158,775.
A local restaurant at the center of controversy when it defied Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s ban on dining in person twice last year, The Black Diamond in Spokane Valley, received $ 486,867 from the RRF. While other restaurants in the area have complied with state orders from March 2020 and again in November 2020, Black Diamond owner Brandon Fenton flouted the restrictions and opened his bar anyway. , risking a suspension of his liquor license.
Fenton, who is currently running for a seat on Spokane Valley city council against current Spokane Valley mayor Ben Wick, says federal funding has helped his business and employees recover from the two closures, to which he notes that the place initially complied.
“It’s not fair for a business to shut down, and it pains me that some had to shut down permanently,” Fenton said. “As a company we have suffered from the shutdown and therefore asked for help like so many others. Aid should not depend on our political views or how we have stood up to help our employees to that they can spend Christmas with gifts under the tree for their children. ”
While restaurateurs Beware, more federal relief could be on the way.
Since the end of the first round of the RRF, three bipartisan attempts to replenish the fund have been presented to Congress. The latest attempt in early August for a $ 48 billion top-up was blocked. Two earlier unsuccessful attempts were each to add $ 60 billion to the RRF.
Washington Hospitality Association President Anthony Anton said he and his team had “worked very hard to replace the remaining candidates through Congress,” and that currently all members of the Congressional delegation from there Washington State, except one, support this call.
“We hope that, not in this upcoming package, but in the next one, that the Restaurant Relief Fund will be there,” said Anton.
In the meantime, local restaurants that were unable to obtain assistance in the first round of the RRF are encouraged to contact the SBA office in Spokane to find out if they are eligible for other local assistance programs, state or federal, said its director, Joel Nania. .
“We work with all the companies that call us for help,” says Nania. “We have a number of other programs available to them.” ??