Kelly Hunt is finding it hard to staff her two Fredericksburg-area restaurants just as Virginia is about to ease some COVID-19-related restrictions on dining establishments.
To help retain the employees she has and hire new ones, she plans to apply for assistance through the federal government’s new $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The Small Business Administration began accepting applications Monday at sba.gov.
“This will allow me to continue to pay my employees top dollar and to help me attract other employees by offering great pay and benefits,” said Hunt, the chef and owner of the Mason Dixon Café, which has locations in Fredericksburg and Stafford County. “Staffing is very difficult right now and being able to pay well is a big help.”
The RRF is designed to help support businesses serving food or drink that have lost revenue due to COVID-19. This industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, with more than 110,000 establishments closing temporarily or for good as of Dec. 1, 2020, according to a National Restaurant Association report. It found the sector also finished the year with nearly 2.5 million jobs below its pre-coronavirus level.
Brian Baker, executive director for Economic Development at the University of Mary Washington Center for Economic Development, said he’s proud of how quickly area restaurateurs were able to come up with innovations in products, ordering and distribution after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered them to stop serving customers indoors in April 2020.
“They mobilized in less than 30 days with new innovations through product, ordering, and distribution changes,” he said.
A number of those businesses have also been aided by the initial round of Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness loans administered through the SBA last year, as well as the round underway now. These funds have helped keep businesses afloat while the economy recovers, but they still lost clientele, and are having to pay for such things as rent while preparing for a post-pandemic business world, he said.
Things are slowly starting to get back to normal with The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest updated guidelines for the activities that vaccinated people nationwide can safely resume, and Northam’s further easing of restrictions on Virginia’s restaurants. Beginning May 15, they will be able to open bar seating for the first time in a year, sell alcohol after midnight and keep their dining rooms open between midnight and 5 a.m.
“The RR Fund will be incredibly helpful in funding future change,” Baker said. “I personally like the broad interpretation for use of funds. It will allow business owners to use the funds where they are most needed.”
Eligible expenses include payroll, supplies, mortgage or rent payments, and purchases to help businesses transition to the current marketplace, which still faces some COVID-related restrictions. Hunt said that she intends to use the RRF money she receives for payroll, rent and utilities.
The first 21 days of the program will prioritize businesses run by women, veterans or people from economically and socially disadvantaged groups. The SBA has also set aside $500 million for 2019 applicants with gross receipts of up to $50,000. An additional $5 billion has been earmarked for applicants with 2019 gross receipts of up to $500,000 and $4 billion for applicants with 2019 gross receipts from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
Borrowers can apply for a minimum of $1,000 to a maximum of $5 million per location or up to $10 million for businesses that have no more than 20 locations and are not a publicly traded company. Businesses that are planning to open and have incurred expenses as of March 11 are also eligible, but Hunt said that rules out a RRF loan for M-D Eats, the upscale fast-food eatery she plans to open in the former Mr. Dee’s space at 701 Lafayette Blvd. once the building is renovated.
A sample of the application form and answers to frequently asked questions are available at sba.gov. In addition, Baker said his office will soon release a template it has created on how to apply to the RRF program and the best ways to use the funds.
“We expect to provide education and training to restaurant owners and key managers very soon,” he added. “We will also share it with our economic development stakeholders around the region.”
Businesses will not be required to repay RRF funds unless they are used for unauthorized purposes, are not used by March 11, 2023, or the business closes before using all funds on authorized purposes.
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407