COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Restaurant receipts down, omicron shutting eateries, and promised grants that never arrived mean small businesses face another long, COVID winter.
Almost 70% of eligible Ohio restaurants that applied for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund did not get any money, according to the Ohio Restaurant Association. Of the 8,928 Ohio restaurants that applied, 2,844 received aid, or 68%.
“Losing everything you’ve worked for because the government cannot get past partisanship is an unacceptable sum of an equation,” said Chris Crader, co-owner at Grow Restaurants, which owns Harvest Pizza. He’s a U.S. Air Force veteran who runs the business with his wife, Bethany Lovell.
“Literally those that received the Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant will survive this. And the 70% of us that did not, will not.”
The couple built Harvest Pizza over 10 years into a reputable chain of six restaurants before the pandemic, but they are down to only four. They qualified as a minority-owned business for the restaurant grants but didn’t suspect it would work against them.
Crader said that every minority business that applied for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund didn’t receive their money, or worse, it was clawed back because of lawsuits pending in other states.
A Sixth Circuit ruling in March 2021 said the prioritization or applications based on race and sex was unconstitutional. The SBA rescinded grants it had approved, and money went instead to businesses next in line.
“We, because we were a minority-owned business, like every other minority-owned business, got zero,” Crader said. “So we’ve been working with Senator Brown’s people … people, pleading for nine months now.
“I cannot believe it’s taken nine months, and they haven’t done the right thing.”
There is no legislation to co-sponsor for another round of funds.
The Ohio Restaurant Association said 86% of restaurants and bars waiting for COVID-19 relief could close. Most restaurants have only 16 days of cash on hand, and closures worsen an already difficult situation, a group representative said.
“I would bet that every person that has an SBA-guaranteed loan if they own their home, it’s used as collateral,” Crader said. “Think about the people that opened last year, or the year before, like, before COVID started.
“They’ve never really been able to get off the ground yet they have all this debt that they’ve incurred building out a restaurant or bar. And, you know, God help them. I don’t know how they weather this storm.”
Portman has been aware of the issue, his office said.
“Since the pandemic began in 2020, Senator Portman has worked in a bipartisan way to support restaurants, including hundreds of billions of dollars in restaurant-specific relief,” said Mollie Timmons, Portman’s press secretary.
“He is looking at new legislative proposals specific to restaurants as well as other ways to ensure that all kinds of small businesses can make it through COVID. He and his staff are in regular communication with restaurant industry leaders, and he will continue to fight to help Ohio businesses succeed.”