Restaurant Revitalization Fund
A couple of months after Lenny and Blanca Mark opened up their new restaurant in the same place that housed the well-known Club 21 Mexican restaurant for some seven decades, the wife and husband team felt they had a winner. In February 2020, their restaurant, El Chinito Gordo on North Oracle Road, grossed $90,000.
A month later their business fell through the floor. The Coronavirus had arrived.
“Our income went into a deep dive,” said Lenny Mark. The business was losing hundreds of dollars a day, he said. In the first three months of serving Mexican food and attracting more customers, the business seemed doomed as the pandemic lockdown and public health concerns became the priorities.
“It was crazy,” said Lenny. “It was a freefall.”
But through the pandemic year of 2020, Lenny and Blanca struggled on. The couple scaled down and with the remaining staff on the payroll, they kept the doors open, preparing food to go. Income from the family’s other business, a Chinese restaurant on the south side, helped sustain El Chinito Gordo.
Lenny said, “We’ve been fighting, doing everything we could.”
Still the business could use help. The clientele and income is not nearly equal to what it was early 2020.
A new federal program, however, could be the key to ensuring that Lenny and Blanca keep El Chinito Gordo going, as well as other restaurants and eateries of all kinds in Ward 3 and across the City.
On Monday, the federal Small Business Administration made available more than $28 billion in financial assistance through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. This fund is part of the historic American Rescue Plan passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in March.
This aid program will provide restaurants with funding equal to what was lost during the pandemic, up to $10 million per business. It’s not a loan. It’s a grant but the money must be used for allowable expenses by March 11, 2023.
But there’s a catch: business owners must submit an application which can be daunting. There is help, however, to file the necessary paperwork and navigate the process.
The bottom line is, regardless of the process, “if you had gross losses, apply,” said Francisca Villegas-Braker, director of the Women’s Business Center at the YWCA of Southern Arizona. “If you started a business during the pandemic, apply. If you have a point of sale but you don’t think you have all the information, apply,” she urged.
It’s important to apply now. For the first 21 days, which began May 3, the SBA will prioritize funding applications from businesses owned and controlled by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Following the three weeks all eligible applications will be funded on a first-come, first-served basis until the funding is exhausted.
There are several avenues to take to help you, the business owner, successfully apply for the funds. While the SBA is administering the program, it is not in a position to offer close one-on-one guidance. But certainly the SBA’s website is good place to start. The webpage provides various links that offer detailed information, including a phone number to call: 844-279-8898. You could also sit through a video presentation, which you can watch here, that explains the application process.
It is likely that few eligible Ward 3 businesses are aware of the rescue program.
At Smokey Mo on North First Avenue, Brandon Johnson, one of the owners of the barbeque restaurant, was unaware of it.
“Absolutely we could use the help,” he said Thursday afternoon. He estimated that business dropped about 20 percent last year, forcing the eatery to let go of “a few good employees.”
With government help, Brandon said Smokey Mo could re-hire the employees and reinvest rescue money in the building and its outdoor eating patio.
At Mario’s Pizza, on North First Avenue south of Ft. Lowell Road, owner Chhib Svay also did not know the funds were available. He also has had no government help during the pandemic. He didn’t apply for financial help through the Payroll Protection Program, one of the federal government’s first pandemic assistance programs last year. And he could have used those funds to keep the workers he let go or increase the hours of his part-time staff. He is the only fulltime worker and Chhib estimated his business took a 30 percent hit.
He didn’t apply in great part because the application process was cumbersome for him, a small business owner. “I don’t know how to do that,” he said.
There are options for business owners like Chhib who find the application process cumbersome and confusing.
At Chicanos Por La Causa, it’s small business arm called Prestamos, has personnel to guide restaurant and taco truck owners through the steps.
“We are asking people to go to our webpage and there they are directed to a specialist,” said Alex Magallanes of Prestamos Southern Arizona. He said his office has received a good number of calls inquiring about the program but he acknowledges that the application process can be slow. “For the mom and pop shops it can be difficult,” he said.
Another organization offering guidance on applying for the Restaurant Revitalization funds is Portable Practical Educational Preparation, commonly known as PPEP. “We would walk you through it,” said Pattie Mendoza.
For PPEP go to this site http://www.pmhdc.net/ or call Pattie Mendoza at 520-622-3553.
And to reach the YWCA Women’s Business Center go to ywcatucson.org/program/wbc/womens-business-center-wbc/ or contact Francisca at 520-447-8911 or Fvillegas@ywcatucson.org