New federal funds on the way to help restaurants struggling because of COVID-19

ATLANTA — New help is on the way for Georgia restaurants hit hard by the pandemic.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund will provide $26.8 billion in grant funding and the application portal for the program is opening soon.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Justin Gray spoke with the administrator of the SBA Isabella Guzman about how the program will work and what restaurants will need to do to apply.

“We know that restaurants were hit hardest, so we are designing a program that’s specifically for them, for restaurants and for food and beverage businesses,” Guzman said.

Jarret Stieber opened the Summerhill restaurant Little Bear just 2 weeks before the pandemic hit.

Because of the restaurant’s small size, they have been limited to take out only ever since.

“You start looking at the money. You lose money each month, you keep thinking how many months can we keep being in the negative,” Stieber said.

He’s already gathered up the materials he will need to apply for a Revitalization fund grant.

TRENDING STORIES:

But Stieber says he worries it will have some of the same rollout problems that hindered the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“I’m doing it with a cautious optimism that maybe it could work out for us,” Stieber said.

SBA says the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will provide grants, not loans that will not need to be paid back.

It will be administered directly through the SBA, not banks. It will also be flexible in how the money can be spent.

Funds can go for everything from rent or mortgage to payroll, physical improvements or debt.

Robert Amick, owner of Two Urban Licks, says that flexibility in how the money can be spent is key. “It’s critical,” Amick said.

Amick has been in the Atlanta restaurant business since 1968 and says keeping his customers and staff safe and his 100 employees on the payroll the past year has been the biggest challenge of his career.

“Nobody knew how to deal with this, and people were scared,” Amick said.

At Two Urban Licks they added plexiglass dividers, test their employees weekly for COVID-19 and increased pay to make up for lost tips.

Amick thinks the grant money is a good idea, but still not enough money for all the businesses that will need help.

“This is a major investment in businesses getting open and doing the things they need to do,” Amick said.

SBA will launch the application portal in the next couple weeks.

They are encouraging businesses to go online to see what they will need for the application and get it ready now.

“Right now, we’re focusing on outreach, so that businesses know where to go what they need so they are ready to get these funds,” Guzman said.

Jarrett Stieber plans to apply as soon as he can for the first come, first serve funds. He also plans to re-open the Little Bear dining room May 5th.

“This seems like it will be more flexible and with how takeout business has slowed in the last few months as things reopened, it would be great to reopen in May on stable footing,” Stieber said.