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On Wednesday, the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) ran out of money, leaving some Hell’s Kitchen bars and restaurants as lucky winners — but many frustrated and worried for their futures.
Congress created the restaurant fund as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The initial order was for the Small Business Administration to prioritize funding for businesses owned by women, people of color and military veterans. However, after white business owners sued, claiming that the program went against the Constitution’s equal protection clause, some grants were rescinded and the awards were thrown into chaos.
Over 370,000 eateries across the United States applied, seeking $75 billion in assistance. By Wednesday, 105,000 were told they would receive grants averaging about $272,000 each — according to an analysis in the New York Times.
There has been a move to add a $60 billion top-up for the fund, but even with cross-party support, there is uncertainty that the bill will be successful.
The National Restaurant Association reports that around 14% of eateries have closed as a result of the pandemic. In Hell’s Kitchen, we reported that over 50 had shuttered during COVID.
“We were very lucky,” said Suzy Darling — who got grants for both The Pocket Bar and Back Pocket Bar. “I own the bars jointly with my husband, Joe, so we didn’t qualify as a woman-owned business — although I did try to convince him to give me an extra 1%. He declined.”
On 10th Avenue, Pat Hughes was unsuccessful with his applications for Hellcat Annie’s and Scruffy Duffy’s. “How could a white middle-aged man qualify for a program specifically designed to exclude him?” questioned Hughes, who was frustrated at what he called “an exclusionary program.”
Maya Joseph at Sullivan Street Bakery on W47th Street was excluded for different reasons. “Sadly, we did not get RRF funds. We were not able to apply because at the bakery only 15% of our business was retail sales. The rules said it had to be over 30%,” she told us. The bakery did apply for their Chelsea location on 9th Avenue (which has more retail sales). However, they were not successful there either.
Daniele Kucera at Etcetera Etcetera was successful with his application. “I applied with all the necessary documents at 11:30am on May 3rd, thirty minutes before the actual opening of the applications,” he told us this afternoon. “After 50 days of waiting, we got funded! It will save us through September and more, since we are running out of PPP loan and our location depends on Broadway, tourists and offices — and those are all still shut down.” Kucera will use part of the funds to buy new kitchen equipment and pay down loan debts. “We are lucky!” he said.
“Though we applied the first day the applications were open, we were not successful. From what I have read, the grant funds were mostly gone by the time the priority groups were processed. Many in Hell’s Kitchen, and the City, are in a difficult situation — the 2nd PPP loans are almost exhausted, and sales have not come back to anywhere near pre-COVID levels,” said Corey Samuel at Kashkaval Garden. “We’re not expecting much of a bump until tourism and office workers come back, which could be months or years. Without the grant, many places in New York and in our neighborhood may be closed within a few months. Hopefully, the bill to refund the RRF passes before we permanently lose another round of small businesses.”
Franco Lazzari, the owner of Vice Versa, had the same experience as Samuels. “We are disappointed and surprised that we didn’t get the grant. We got emails saying that they had run out of money. With Hell’s Kitchen losing 7,000 residents during the pandemic, no offices, no theater and hotels quiet — there is no way life can get back to normal,” he told us. His accountant shared with him that less than 20% of his clients had been successful with the grants.
“Our case is still marked as ‘under review’,” said Steve Olsen from the West Bank Cafe. “We are hopeful that the RRF will get funded again and we will qualify. January is right around the corner and all businesses will be on their own to survive — and that’s when I believe a lot of closures will take place.”
Hell’s Kitchen newbie Bar Dough suffered from having opened just before the pandemic. “We were successful only in getting limited funds for both rounds of PPP,” shared Nick Verses, the owner of Bar Dough on Restaurant Row. “We did not receive any funding for the RRF. We were too new and the criteria weren’t designed for recently opened small businesses.”
Nick Accardi from Tavola told us that their application was not successful. Like many, Accardi is “hoping they will allot additional funds.”
We will update this report as more bars and restaurants share their status.