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Grants from $28B Restaurant Revitalization Fund in high demand

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 11:28 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Billions of dollars from the federal government to aid restaurants, bars, and other food- and drink-service businesses are going fast.

Congress allocated $28.6 billion to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, as part of the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.

Just two weeks after the fund’s application opened, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports the requests for grants it has received are more than double the amount Congress set aside.

“We’ve already exhausted the $28.6 billion that Congress appropriated for this,” said Jayne Armstrong, the Iowa district director of the SBA. “So we’re going to continue to take applications and as Congress is working through the funding issues and getting additional funding for the program.”

Since the fund opened on May 3, the SBA has received more than 200,000 requests for aid.

The first three weeks are reserved as a priority processing period for certain businesses.

“There are set-asides for smaller businesses with lower revenues, to make sure that they get access to this funding, and also to for businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged businesses,” Armstrong said, adding that other businesses can still apply during this time, but their applications won’t be considered until after the first 21 days have passed.

LeShawn Smith, who owns Shawnniecakes Specialty Treats and More in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo City Market, plans to apply for a grant.

She moved to the market in 2019 after selling baked goods out of her home for several years before that and said owning her own bakery has been a dream come true.

“When people bite into my food, they’re like, ‘Oh my god,’ and I’m like, ‘That, I want that response!’” she said.

But Smith described the pandemic period as a rollercoaster for Shawnniecakes.

To try to make up for losses from the market being shut down for a time and reduced to 50% capacity at another point, she started offering online ordering, including delivery outside the Cedar Rapids area, and curbside service.

Smith expanded her baked goods menu to include savory items, like chicken salad sandwiches and French fries, to attract more customers, applied for loans, and even started a GoFundMe — its title: “Help save a small business with big dreams.”

“I don’t get to just bake,” Smith said. “It’s been the whole gamut.”

While Shawnniecakes has experienced an uptick in sales over the last few weeks, Smith could still benefit from assistance to solidify her business after a challenging year.

Bakeries are among the establishments that qualify for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Others include restaurants; food stands, food trucks, and food carts; caterers; bars, saloons, lounges, and taverns; snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars; brewpubs, tasting rooms, and taprooms; breweries and microbreweries; wineries and distilleries; inns; and licensed facilities or premises of a beverage alcohol producer where the public may taste, sample, or purchase products.

“There’s still a lot of businesses that have fallen through the cracks that weren’t eligible for different programs for different reasons,” Armstrong said.

Businesses should anticipate it taking about two weeks between the time they apply and the time they receive their grant, if approved, according to Armstrong.

Smith is still working on her application, saying she was having difficulty submitting it because of problems logging in and being kicked off the SBA’s website.

While she was getting frustrated because of the technical difficulties, she said she wasn’t stressed about needing to receive a grant quickly, especially as her sales are finally picking up.

“I feel like if I don’t get it, it’s because somebody else needed it more. So I’m not too nervous. I’m just expecting that, like, yeah, we need it, so it’s going to happen,” Smith said with a laugh.

But regardless, she’s going to fight to keep her business open as she has done for more than a year.

“Shawnniecakes is my nickname. This is my namesake,” Smith said. “So I’m like, if I’m going to fight for anything, it’s going to be my business. It’s going to be my dreams.”

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