Capital Region

Gillibrand stumps for $60B more in federal grants to restaurateurs

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks during a press conference on Aug. 7, 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks during a press conference on Aug. 7, 2020.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand,D-N.Y., pressed the case Thursday for $60 billion in additional grants to restaurants suffering the economic effects of the pandemic.

The federal government as of June 30 had given $28.6 billion to 101,004 restaurants nationwide through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, including $3.67 billion to 9,775 restaurants in New York state.

But requests far outstripped the funds allocated earlier this year for the grants. In New York alone, roughly two restaurants were blanked for every one restaurant that got a grant, said Gillibrand.

“The past year and a half has been really hard for most industries,” she said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. Restaurants, operating on a narrow margin in the best of times, were among the hardest hit industries, she added, and the restaurant sector has seen a disproportionately high number of layoffs, as well, she said.

She was joined by Tom Colicchio, a restaurateur and advocate for his fellow restaurant owners.

The RRF did everything it was supposed to do, he said, but provided help to far fewer restaurants than actually needed help.

Colicchio said he’s lucky that his landlords are willing to work with him. But he’s $1.2 million behind in rent at just one of his restaurants, and that’s being deferred, not forgiven.

Restaurant owners are seeing their life’s work at risk, he said.

“We’re actually talking people off the ledge now.”

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021 would not allow new applications for grants but would provide $60 billion to help those who applied earlier this year and didn’t get grants under the initial $28.6 billion allocation.

Gillibrand said the proposal has bipartisan, bicameral support in Congress. If it can be incorporated into a must-pass bill, she said, the appropriation should be assured.

LIST OF RECIPIENTS

The U.S. Small Business Administration recently complied with a Freedom Of Information Act request and released the list of RRF grant recipients.

It shows dozens and dozens of restaurants, caterers, bars, bakeries and other related businesses across the Capital Region receiving sums of money great and small.

The bulk are in or near Albany (93), Saratoga Springs (49), Schenectady (45) and Troy (28). 

In Schenectady, the RFF grants ranged from $1.26 million to $3,057.

More Perreca’s restaurant got one of the smallest grants, just $26,139. Owner Maria Perreca Papa explained that the RFF formula used worked against her restaurant.

The grant is calculated by subtracting a restaurant’s 2020 revenue from its 2019 revenue, and then subtracting the sum it received from another federal stimulus effort, the Paycheck Protection Program.

The math didn’t work out to much, Papa said, but it was appreciated.

“That money helped me give my employees a paid vacation this year,” she said. “We worked our tails off. I’m still tired!”

Aneesa Waheed’s Tara Kitchen was the recipient of the smallest grant in the city and the 42nd-smallest in the state: barely $3,000.

She marveled at the sums flowing now to her fellow restaurateurs.

Waheed had no idea at the start of the pandemic how bad it would be or what government support would be offered.

“The only thing I could focus on was that I wanted to keep the business afloat,” she recalled. 

As it turned out, Tara Kitchen got a $75,000 PPP loan that converted to a grant because the restaurant maintained its staffing, and those employees pivoted to a crisis footing effectively enough that the operation maintained most of its income.

“In some ways I was extremely proud of myself, it felt incredible to me as a small businessperson, as an entrepreneur,” Waheed said. “But a small part of me was like, ‘I could have sat around and gotten some grants.’ But that’s not my personality.”

Since the crisis began 16 months ago, Tara Kitchen retained its employees, kept both locations running, and opened two new locations.

“So I’m OK with how it all turned out,” Waheed said.

One of the larger RRF grants in Schenectady County — $202,832 — went to Turf Tavern in Scotia, a much larger restaurant than either More Perecca’s or Tara Kitchen.

“I​t’s a lifeline, essentially,” co-owner Tom Gallant said. “​We weren’t going to fail, we would have found a way through, but it’s really taken the sting out of the pandemic.”

DATAPOINTS

Here are some RFF program datapoints from around the Capital Region:

  • United Buffet was the largest recipient in Schenectady, at $1,264,395; Blue Ribbon Restaurant was second-largest, at $859,897.
  • Prime at Saratoga National got $2,032,415, the 315th-largest grant in the state.
  • In a short stretch of State Street in downtown Schenectady, three restaurants — Mexican Radio, Zen Asian Fusion and Puzzles — drew a combined $1,169,742.
  • The biggest grant in Amsterdam went to a buffet, just as in Schenectady — Hibachi House got $463,850. (But not every buffet-style restaurant got a big award — China Panda Buffet in East Aurora got just $1,031, smallest out of the nearly 10,000 grants awarded to New York businesses.)
  • Some local craft breweries and brewpubs drew large grants, including Troy Brewing Co. at $2,158,575, Whitman Brewing Co. at $1,861,091, and C.H. Evans Brewing Co. at $1,185,905. Druthers Brewing Company topped $1 million combined between its Schenectady and Saratoga locations, and Wolff’s Biergarten topped $800,000 combined in Albany and Schenectady.
  • The one and only Jumpin’ Jacks Drive-in got a $250,367 grant. The Colonie Center Dunkin’, one of 110 Dunkin’s statewide to receive grants, got nearly as much: $249,382.
  • In Lake George, Big Joe’s Catering got a big grant ($330,960) but the Adirondack Pancake House stacked up to just $25,700.

Categories: Business, News

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