ATLANTA — Help is on the way for the restaurant industry after being rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the pandemic began one year ago, the Georgia Restaurant Association estimates 4,000 restaurants around the state have closed.
Inside the American Rescue Plan, which was signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday, is $28.6 billion in grants for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
"I have deep concerns about the amount of debt many of our restaurants have taken on during this crisis just to survive," said Karen Bremer the president and CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association.
Bremer welcomes the federal aid because running a restaurant, she said, is more expensive than ever with COVID-19 health guidelines requiring additional expenses. In addition, there are still fewer customers dining
"We still have consumers that are uncomfortable about dining in public," she said.
The aid will be distributed as grants. Owners won't have to pay taxes on them. Since the funds aren't being offered as loans, owners also won't have to pay back the funds.
Owners with 20 or fewer locations will be able to apply and use the funds to cover mortgage or rent, utilities, supplies, food and beverage orders, payroll, or other operational expenses.
For the first 21 days when the application process opens, owners who are women, veterans, or minorities will be prioritized.
"I think this is a tremendous investment on behalf of the American people for restaurants with a huge ROI that is going to save our industry," said Ryan Pernice, who owns Table & Main, Osteria Mattone, and Coalition Food and Beverage.
Pernice is hopeful he will receive funds to assist with his business expenses and he believes any funds he receives will have a ripple effect.
"Our investment of a dollar can ripple out over many, many industries. From the fishmonger who brings our fish to Table & Main, to our linen provider at Osteria Mattone, to all our liquor providers at Coalition Food and Beverage," he said.
"There is such a huge range of people that we can pay and pass this money through to the economy. This is going to be a terrific shot in the arm," Pernice added.
"It's not optimal to want to get assistance from anybody outside of your own success," said Alexis Kinsey, who the restaurant group Fork U Concepts, which includes Taqueria Tsunami, Stockyard Burgers and Bones, Silla Del Toro, and Forno Vero.
Kinsey said while needing assistance isn't ideal, the aid could help her restaurants get through what could be the backend of the pandemic as vaccinations continue and warm weather returns.
"We are already seeing sales change with the weather. I'm very optimistic moving forward that we are going to be OK, it's just a matter of when we get back to being at full capacity again," Kinsey said.
An added benefit to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund is the wide-range of expenses owners can cover with the grant dollars.
"Every restaurant and every business is very unique," Kinsey said. "So to have that flexibility of being able to spend that money where you need to is great."
Pernice shared Kinsey's sentiment that the funds could help keep restaurants in business until normal business returns.
"What this is going to be able to help us do is get across the finish line, bring those last employees back on and help us kind of bridge the gap between when the warm weather hits, the vaccines roll out and everyone is ready to go and can be back in our dining rooms," Pernice said. I think that is still two, three, four months away but we are headed there."
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants will be distributed by the Small Business Administration. An SBA spokesman tells 11Alive once plans are finalized an application will be posted online for restaurant owners to fill out. Currently there is no specific timeline of when the funds could be sent out to businesses.