About a year ago, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Consuelo Cerrillo Ortega worried about whether her family’s Mexican restaurant in Greeley was going to be successful.
With most of the world shutting down, the money wasn’t reaching El Pueblito, the nearly 20-year-old restaurant on 10th Street, or the other Ortega family locations in Loveland and Fort Collins.
âWe were worried about the staff,â Cerrillo Ortega said Wednesday afternoon.
But with around $ 90,000 in loans spread across the three sites, El Pueblito has apparently survived the pandemic, which appears to be better controlled in the United States than at any time since the start of winter 2020.
âIt was difficult because even though it looked like we were doing fine during the pandemic, we had to share money with delivery (services),â Cerrillo Ortega said. “It was hard to make enough money to keep everyone together.”
El Pueblito was among 1,587 restaurants, bars, breweries and food trucks in Colorado that, in early June, received more than $ 309 million in federal assistance under the $ 28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. dollars launched in early May.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was created as part of the trillion-dollar US bailout, which was passed by Congress this spring.
U.S. Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper and U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Guzman on Wednesday visited three businesses in northern Colorado, including El Pueblito in Greeley.
âI think we have to recognize that our entire economy operates almost like a small business,â Hickenlooper said. âHe’s back on his feet, but this is the worst time we should take a step back and congratulate ourselves. This is when we need to redouble our efforts, put our shoulder to the wheel and make sure that we are supporting these companies. “
The senator added that supporting small businesses will go a long way in determining the country’s overall performance in recovering from the pandemic, and the SBA plays a key role in that future.
Hickenlooper, a former brewery owner who was elected in November, sits on the US Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which oversees the SBA.
Guzman was confirmed as head of the SBA in March. His trip to Colorado on Wednesday was his first from Washington, DC since taking over as director of the SBA.
Guzman said the SBA’s identity during the pandemic has been marked by flexibility – by being as supportive as possible with small businesses in need.
âWe went from a $ 40 billion plus entity to a trillion dollar portfolio with all the relief programs,â Guzman said. âI think it’s just a matter of being so flexible and adaptable to the needs of our small businesses during this time. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do as we go along. Really support small businesses with the great programs that we have. “
Guzman warned that while there is great hope as more reopenings occur at this point in the pandemic, it is important for small business owners to know what is available to help employees gain access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The Centers for Disease Control reported about 9,400 new cases on June 1. There were 11,000 new cases on June 1, 2020, but the number of daily cases continued to increase steadily throughout the summer and fall.
The CDC recorded more than 200,000 new cases in the United States on 17 different dates in December.
According to information from Hickenlooper’s office, restaurants can use restaurant revitalization money to cover expenses such as payroll, rent, construction, utilities and maintenance. The grants are more flexible than the Paycheck Protection Program which was passed by Congress last year as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Restaurants have until March 2023 to use the funds.
At El Pueblito in Greeley, the owners have also used the money for improvements to the restaurant, for example with a renovated patio overlooking 10th Street.
Alvaro Ortega Jr., whose father, Alvaro Sr., was one of the founders of El Pueblito, said the grants and other relief funds have been of great help to businesses. Ortega Jr. said the family had a good visit with Hickenlooper and Guzman, and he found the senator “easy to talk to.”
Ortega Jr. added that Greeley’s restaurant has recently seen “a lot of new customers” and customers are choosing to dine over take-out with a 2-to-1 markup. Ortega Jr. said that customers at execution now accounted for around 20% of business, up from around 40% a year ago.
âWe survived,â he added.