Restaurant owners optimistic & concerned about getting help from Restaurant Revitalization Fund

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The most recent stimulus package is making more than $28 billion in grants available to struggling restaurants. The application portal isn’t open just yet, but some concerns are already being voiced.

“It is insane what we pay for protein or cheese and stuff like that,” said Josh Tarokh, the owner of Village Pizza in Athens. Tarokh says the impact of the pandemic extends beyond getting people through his doors. He’s hopeful to tap into the SBA’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

“I’m hoping that can help us mitigate our food costs and labor and hopefully things will get better.”

The $28 billion fund is not yet open to the public, only a select few because of a trial period to test the online application portal. When the application goes live, the first 21 days will prioritize women, vets, and minority-owned restaurants.

Earlier in the pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program’s initial $349 billion was gone in 2 short weeks. The confidence level in getting a piece of the $28 billion isn’t very high among small business owners.

“I’m not banking on it. I’m not going to operate likes it’s coming. We are going to plan like it’s not coming,” said Tarokh.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said the fund will be replenished quickly.

There’s another potentially more pressing concern for smaller restaurants. They can apply for up to $5 million in relief whereas a chain “group” with under 20 locations is eligible for up to $10 million.

Phat Sammy’s in Huntsville looked at applying and because they are not operating at a total loss, quickly realized the application process may not be worth their time.

“We went over some stuff with our accountant and that’s as about as far as it went because we were told we wouldn’t really qualify for anything,” said Jeremy Esterly, the head chef at Phat Sammy’s.

Esterly along with a business partner opened Phat Sammy’s during the pandemic. Making matters worse, their front door is hidden on Jefferson Street by ongoing construction.

“We are making it, quote on quote. It would have been nice to have something to help out because we are riddled with debt right now,” said Esterly.

The underground tiki-style bar hopes more money with fewer restrictions will eventually become available.

“As long as they keep the program around we’ll keep trying. Eventually, I’m sure we will be eligible. Doesn’t hurt to keep trying,” said Esterly.

Restaurants that permanently closed during the COVID-19 pandemic will not be eligible for revitalization money. The funds must also be spent by 2023.

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