SALT LAKE CITY – More than a year since the start of the pandemic, many restaurants are still struggling to make up for revenue and staffing lost during the previous year. But a new fund announced Tuesday could offer some relief to hard-hit food establishments across the U.S.
"The restaurant and bar industry got slammed," said Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Restaurant Association.
Corigliano said since the start of the year, "restaurants have been picking up quite considerably." But, she added, "that doesn't really translate into restaurants being back on their feet."
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund will provide $28.6 billion to restaurants across the country. The money comes from the American Rescue Plan signed into law March 11. Registration for the fund opens Friday. The Small Business Administration will begin accepting applications next Monday.
"I think that's going to be the last bit of stimulus that will get us all through this," said Kimi Eklund, owner of Kimi's Chop and Oyster House that's been in the Sugar House community for more than six years. "So, we can actually start, you know, looking forward to breaking even and being profitable again."
Eklund said since Valentine's Day she has seen an uptick in business. But other factors continue to hurt business, including increased prices in the food products she buys. Her revenue is still not enough to break even with expenses.
"So far, Tuesdays haven't been worth being open yet," she said. "There's still so much we have to do to catch up and be profitable again."
The SBA said it will prioritize funding applications from businesses "owned and controlled by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals."
Following the first 21 days, eligible applicants can receive funds on a first-come, first-served basis. But there are concerns the fund won't even last that long.
"We know it's not going to go very far," Corigliano said. "The amount of money being allotted is not going to be nearly enough to take care of restaurants and bars throughout the United States. We know that."
Corigliano was happy to hear the fund would soon be available and that it would prioritize the initial distribution, but she also said money isn't the only issue many restaurants are facing.
I have heard from the majority of my restaurant owners that they don't open up to full capacity because they can't get enough employees to work.
–Michele Corigliano, executive director, Salt Lake Restaurant Association.
"It has been unbelievable. I don't know if it's that there are a lot of restaurant employees that are on unemployment and don't want to go back to work or if they left the industry," she said. "But I have heard from the majority of my restaurant owners that they don't open up to full capacity because they can't get enough employees to work."
Eklund is still short a couple servers but says she's made it a point to continue paying them through the pandemic so she can hold on to them. She expects to be at full staff in the coming weeks and she's counting on additional funding and a return to normalcy to help her restaurant become profitable again.
"There's so many people who say this is the first time I've been out in over a year."