When the pandemic first started in March 2020, there was a concern that A.J.’s Family Diner in Cortland wouldn’t be able to stay open, said general manager Baylee Lockwood.
“From all diners, we wouldn’t be here without the support of the community this past year,” Lockwood said. “Support from the community has helped out a lot.”
The American Rescue Plan established a $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund at the U.S. Small Business Administration in Rochester to distribute funds to the hardest-hit small restaurants. The money is in addition to earlier federal stimulus funding.
The purpose of the new funding is to bring jobs back and revitalize the industry, according to a news release.
“With the launch of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, we’re prioritizing funding to the hardest-hit small businesses — irreplaceable gathering places in our neighborhoods and communities that need a lifeline now to get back on their feet,” said Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman.
A.J.’s Family Diner saw a dramatic decrease in service and employment, losing around $300 in daily revenue and 10 of its 15 employees because of layoffs and some of the older employees were high risk for contracting the virus, Lockwood said. The state increased capacity limitations in March to 75 percent, which has helped the diner generate more revenue and business.
Restaurants that participated in the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provides assistance to small businesses to keep workers on their payroll, will be eligible for the new restaurant funding, according to a news release.
“We used the PPP loan to get us through the heat of the pandemic,” said Sandro Mironti, owner of New York Bagel on Main Street in Cortland. “We’ll take funding anytime it’s available to use, depending on whether it’s a grant or a loan — it’s too early to evaluate if that’s something we would want to utilize because we don’t know the specifics of it yet or how the payments work.
After speaking with his local bank Wednesday morning, Mironti was told the restaurant revitalization program was halted, he said. Local banks have received some information but not clarification on how to use it.
Throughout the pandemic, Mironti had to hold off on future investments to pay his employees and purchase items to keep the business running each day, he said. With the additional funding, he would be able to invest in better production equipment and display cases.
“Any business right now would really love free money, so to speak,” Mironti said. “I’m sure there are a lot of us that have put things aside, whether it’s new equipment, repairs, stuff like that.”
Over the next two weeks, the Small Business Association will establish a seven-day pilot period for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund application portal to address technical issues ahead of the launch, according to a news release. Participants in the pilot program will be randomly selected from existing PPP borrowers but will not receive funds until the application portal is open to the public.
There is no official application launch date yet but the Small Business Administration will spend the first 21 days that the program is open to review applications from small businesses owned by women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged people, according to a news release. Following the 21-day period, all eligible applicants are encouraged to submit applications.