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Restaurant owners still need help

It’s a beautiful Saturday evening in the height of summer, but a banquet room sits empty and restaurant dining rooms are only half full.

The pandemic may be coming to an end soon, but the devastating effects on the hospitality industry are here to stay.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was established in March 2021 to be administered by the Small Business Administration as the last lifeline of support for hospitality industry operations devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of June 30, 2021, the fund officially closed, having exhausted the $28.6 billion it was initially provided.

While more than 101,000 restaurant and hospitality businesses received funding through this program, another 177,000 applicants have been left out in the cold.

Replenishing the RRF should be a priority in Congress and a grassroots effort is underway nationwide to convince all elected officials to support this effort.

Nationwide, only 28% of RRF applications received by SBA were funded.

Pennsylvania restaurants fared a little better with 35% of applicants receiving grants. At an average award of $283,000 per business, replenishing the RRF and providing grants to the more than 6,500 unfunded Pennsylvania businesses devastated by the pan­­­­­­demic would bring over

$1.8 billion to the commonwealth.

Restaurants, caterers, food trucks and other food service and hospitality operators face an uphill climb to full recovery.

Labor shortages aside, food and product costs are rising at staggering rates.

Already slim profit margins are being eaten into with every meal sold.

National statistics indicate that only 65% of restaurant patrons are comfortable dining inside at restaurants.

Just because restrictions have been lifted and you see restaurants busy doesn’t mean they are back to 100% occupancy or anywhere close to a full recovery.

In the past 16 months, some businesses have been able to pivot, offering outdoor dining and take-out options that might not have been available to them pre-pandemic.

But not every operational model allowed for those types of transitions, and businesses like The Casino at Lakemont Park, a full-service banquet and catering facility in Blair County, offer a perfect example of why replenishing the RRF is of paramount importance.

For 16 months, hospitality operators have taken advantage of every loan and grant program available to them.

Two Payroll Protection Plans, Pennsylvania 30 Day Grants, CARES Act Grants, CHIRP funding and others were “Band-Aids” compared to the funding needed to support us through the pandemic and in the months and year ahead.

Many operators took additional loans to cover losses, complicating their recovery even further. RRF is the lifeline to the future for the many businesses that remain unfunded by this program.

Statistics indicate that 90,000 restaurants closed nationally over the past year. The negative impact of business closures on the local economy is far-reaching. Can we really afford to let this trend continue?

In the first round of RRF awards, 27 restaurants in the Altoona/Hollidaysburg area received grants totaling over $5 million.

Any recipient will tell you that money will pay for rent, mortgages, increasing wages and attracting employees back to the workforce, unpaid vendor bills, contract services like IT and HVAC, outdoor dining buildouts, PPE and myriad other expenses they otherwise had to forgo over the past year.

It’s my strong belief that every U.S. representative in the commonwealth has a responsibility to their constituents and the hospitality operators in their districts to lend their support to this vital legislative effort to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

If you are a restaurateur, a patron, a banker, or vendor, you can help push this vital legislation. We, the people, have a voice in this matter.

Local restaurants need your help.

Doug Simon is owner and head chef at The Casino at Lakemont.

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