New federal funding a lifeline for recovering restaurant industry

Local News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Struggling restaurant owners could soon get a lifeline. Friday, the application process opens for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). The program was passed as part of the American Rescue Act and signed into law in early March.

It was around the same time Megan Dempsey was reopening her downtown restaurant after a second shutdown.

“I’m looking forward to these new funds just to get us over the hump and give us a fighting chance,” she said.

Dempsey’s Food and Spirits sits on the corner of High and Mound Streets in Downtown Columbus and relies heavily on traffic from the adjacent Franklin County Courthouse and Great Southern Theatre, both of which closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the closures, Dempsey’s stayed closed between March 2020 and July 2020. It reopened in late summer, but low revenues once again forced the business to shut its doors in November.

“It’s been crazy, actually,” Dempsey said. “It has been a roller coaster.”

In the Franklinton neighborhood, Tommy’s Diner saw business pick up more quickly.

“Once we got past the holidays, things started to feel a little bit more normal,” explained owner Michael Pappas. “We’ve been getting good crowds again and starting to see more people again.”

Pappas credits faithful customers for helping the mainstay restaurant rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, but he relied on several rounds of the Paycheck Protection Program to pay his staff during the shutdown and strain of slower business.

“If I was a new business, I’d be very stressed out right now,” he said. “Luckily, we’ve been in business for such a long time I think that’s really carrying us right now.”

Both Pappas and Dempsey plan to take advantage of the RRF program. Facilitated by the Small Business Association, it will give qualifying businesses between $1,000 – $5 million to cover pandemic-related costs incurred between February 15, 2020 – December 31, 2021. The program could potentially expand to include costs for two additional years, if necessary.

The National Restaurant Association lists eligible expenses like payroll, mortgage payments or rent and utilities, maintenance expenses like construction for outdoor seating and social distancing, supplies like PPE and cleaning materials; food and beverage expenses; covered supplier costs; operational expenses, and paid sick leave.

“Hopefully it’ll be just a cushion because I’d hate to have to rely on that,” Dempsey said. “If that’s the case, then we’re not going to be able to stay in business.”

Dempsey explained she’s cautiously optimistic business is turning a corner, but she hopes the RRF program will help guarantee the restaurant recovers.

“I think we’re doing okay. It will dwindle fast if we don’t get just a little more help. So that’s what I’m truly counting on so we can stay here,” she said.

Pappas added, “2020 was a big step back, so any funds that you can get help.”

Interested businesses can begin registering for the grant application portal on Friday, April 30. The Small Business Association will begin processing applications on May 3. See eligibility requirements here.

You can read more frequently asked questions from the National Restaurant Association by clicking here.

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