PROVIDENCE — In the city’s Jewelry District by Davol Square, many restaurant success stories have flourished in the last decade: Xaco Taco fills its hip joint to serve tortillas made from scratch with happy hour deals. Tiny Bar may look dainty, but is known to reinvent classic craft cocktails. And since it’s opening in 2016, The District’s dining room often represents the city’s population: couples meeting friends over brunch, men in hardhats ordering pizzas, and health care workers from nearby hospitals unwinding after a long shift.
But for the last 14 months, due to various COVID-19 business restrictions and low consumer confidence in the beginning of the pandemic, many of these restaurants have operated at a fraction of their normal hours, capacity, employees — and ultimately, sales.
“This year has been a challenging year like no other,” said Jennifer Freitas, owner of The District. She said the restaurant had to make countless changes and be creative in order to stay afloat, but those changes also led to additional spending.
On Tuesday afternoon, US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman David Cicilline stood inside The District, offering local restaurant owners a financial solution by applying for aid from the newly opened Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
“COVID-19 truly impacted every corner of our community. But no industry has been as impacted as the restaurant industry,” said Reed.
Reed said he commended the industry for its resilience over the last year, “but resiliency does not pay the rent.”
“If you loved the Paycheck Protection Program, you’re going to love the RRF,” said Whitehouse.
Members of the Rhode Island delegation advocated for this $28.6 billion restaurant relief fund to be included in the American Rescue Plan, which President Biden signed into law in March.
“No other state in the country has a better reputation for restaurants than Rhode Island,” said Cicilline.
The Fund was designed to provide a boost to the state’s economy, a move that many industry leaders said is a necessary step as 11 percent of the state’s jobs are in the food service industry. The Fund provides grants to restaurants and other qualifying food industry businesses, which includes bars, wineries, snack and non-alcoholic beverage bars, caterers, breweries, bakeries, and food trucks and stands. Eligible expenses include payroll, mortgage and rent payments, business debt service, utilities, maintenance, outdoor seating, business supplies, food and beverage costs, certain supplier costs, and operating expenses.
Businesses can receive up to $10 million, but no more than $5 million per physical location. Each grant amount is based on revenue losses during the ongoing pandemic. Recipients are not required to repay the funding, as long as the entire grant is used for eligible expenses no later than March 11, 2023.
The first $349 billion of last year’s PPP disappeared in less than two weeks. This funding, while specifically for restaurants and food service businesses, is less than 10 percent of that.
When asked how long restaurants had before the funds ran out, Whitehouse gave one piece of advice: “Don’t dawdle.”
Reed said, “Everyone should apply... yesterday.”
The SBA website says the grants will accept applications from all eligible applicants, but only process and fund priority group applicants in the first round. These priority groups include businesses that are women-owned, veteran-owned, or are owned by individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged.
Here’s how to apply:
1. Register at the SBA Application portal here, if you’re not applying through a SBA-recognized POS Vendor. Registration is already open as of Friday.
2. Sign up for the SBA’s RRF email updates.
3. Gather the necessary business documents. They must be in PDF, JPG, GIF, TIFF, or PNG file formats. Those documents can be found on this SBA page. Some documents vary by the type of business.
4. Complete and submit the application. A DocuSign package will be sent to the email you entered in the application portal. Sign it immediately in order for the SBA review process to begin.
5. The SBA will take about 14 days to review the application, according to the National Restaurant Association.
6. Make a plan to spend all funds on eligible expenses before March 11, 2023.