Restaurants and bars in Wisconsin that have not applied for a federal grant from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help pay for expenses related to COVID-19 are unlikely to get more federal assistance unless Congress no longer appropriates money to help them.
The US Small Business Association’s application process for the $ 28.6 billion program – which is part of the American Rescue Plan Act approved earlier this year – came to a halt on Monday and was only open for three weeks.
In the first two weeks, more than 300,000 applications had been filed with the program across the country, totaling $ 69 billion in requested funds, nearly triple what had been allocated, according to the SBA.
The Packing House received its federal grant from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund on Monday, enough to keep the Milwaukee Supper Club open.
âThis alone is the liferaft we desperately need to survive,â said general manager Chris Wiken, whose parents opened the 300-seat restaurant and lounge in 1974.
He did not share how much money the restaurant received from the federal program, but said the costs to stay open part-time were considerable.
âWe spent almost $ 100,000 making improvements and upgrades to create a safe environment for eating,â Wiken said. âWe upgraded our HVAC systems to improve air filtration and added UV light filtering to kill viruses. We have also changed our cleaning regimens and chemicals to kill the virus on all high contact surfaces.
In addition to building improvements, The Packing House has grown from a drive-thru restaurant, started offering take-out cocktail kits, and introduced more family-friendly take-out options. Wiken said they would also use the federal grant to build outdoor seating.
Costs aside, finding new employees has been a challenge since the restaurant reopened for limited in-person meals in October. Wiken said staffing was cut by 90% at the start of the pandemic.
âWe applied for every state and local grant we were eligible for,â he said. âFortunately, we received all of them. Some as small as $ 500 from our local business improvement district, the largest being $ 20,000 from the state.â
Wiken said the restaurant also received money from the federal paycheck protection program designed to help workers pay.
La Crosse Distilling Co. has also benefited from the Paycheque Protection Program.
âWe have requested two PPP rounds, which has helped close the gap between the 2019 and 2020 deficit. We are grateful that we have been approved and now canceled for these loans. They were essential to keep us afloat, âsaid co-owner Chad Staehly. .
âWe paid all of our staff for a month after the closure started. We were a whole new startup, but we couldn’t just leave our employees and staff to fend for themselves. We wanted to at least give them a chance to plan whatever was going on. to arrive then, âhe continued.
La Crosse Distilling Co. opened in 2018. It makes spirits and has an indoor tasting room with a bar and restaurant that serves locally sourced Mexican cuisine.
Despite some building improvements related to the pandemic, the Crosse Distilling Co. decided not to apply for this round of federal funding under the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
âAfter a month we were at least able to offer take-out and that kept some of our staff actively employed,â Staehly said. “We reopened in June (of 2020) just as they let us go and were able to get most of the others back to work.”
Outdoor patio seating has also helped the business stay open throughout the pandemic. La Crosse Distilling Co. participated in a La Crosse program to transform parking spaces into street cafes.
Restaurants continue to struggle
The number of Wisconsin restaurants and bars that applied for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund before funding ran out is unknown, but the state’s industry remains far from stable.
A survey of Wisconsin restaurateurs in April 2021 found that for the majority, revenues are down and costs have risen during the pandemic.
The Wisconsin Restaurant Association represents the state’s licensed restaurant industry with more than 7,000 members across the state. The association had encouraged restaurants across the state to apply for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund before applications were cut short.
âAssistance programs have been a lifeline for many restaurants,â said Kristine Hillmer, President and CEO of WRA.
âNo industry has been hit harder than restaurants and these dollars have made the difference between solvency and bankruptcy for many operators. Without these programs, it is likely that many more restaurants would not have survived until. now, “she said.
Federal funds are intended to provide emergency grants of up to $ 10 million per business and no more than $ 5 million for each physical location equal to pandemic-related losses in the nation’s restaurant industry. . Grants do not have to be repaid, provided they are used up by March 2023.
âThe need is greater than the funds available. Efforts are underway to try to secure additional funds,â Hillmer said. “We understand that there is nothing a restaurant can do to make their claim stand out – it’s whether or not you qualify, and where you are in the queue.”