BOSTON — Massachusetts restaurant owners say they’re facing a make-or-break moment after federal fund set up to help them out didn’t have enough money to go around.
“The price of goods has increased, the price of wages has increased, and the rent has never stopped. So, we need that money to just stay open,” said Bessie King, who owns Villa Mexico Cafe in Boston’s financial district. She says $190,000 from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund, or RRF, kept her family business afloat during many waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fund has run dry.
“I got zero RRF for any of the businesses. Nothing,” said Steven Nookie Postal, who owns Revival Cafes in Cambridge, Somerville and Boston, The Commonwealth restaurant in Boston’s Kendall Square and the Mothership, a Cambridge restaurant he can’t afford to open.
“Omicron is crushing restaurants and crushing the hospitality business,” Postal said. “Those that received RRF are able to pay their employees more. They’re able to get through this really tough time and those that didn’t are just hemorrhaging money.”
The fund set aside $28.6 billion dollars for struggling restaurants in early 2021. About $993 million to came Massachusetts helping some 2,556 restaurants, according to Senator Elizabeth Warren.
But Warren said another 4,000 still need help.
“We’ve got a real problem on our hands,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in Cambridge Tuesday morning while speaking with members of Mass Restaurants United, an independent industry group.
The restauranteurs from across eastern Massachusetts who say this current wave could be it for their businesses.
“We built a program that works, we just didn’t build it big enough. So, we know how to do this, we just need to put more money into it,” Warren said.
She’s pushing to replenish the fund, adding $43 billion, for those who received either nothing or partial funding in the first round.
“What was your reaction to so many different stories you heard here today? Some are very emotional,” said Boston 25 News anchor Kerry Kavanaugh to Senator Warren.
“People did every pivot every toe dance, everything they possibly could to keep their restaurants open. They need some help from the rest of us,” Warren responded.
In Washington some Republicans point to the country’s deficit and rising inflation and unspent funds at the state level.
“It has been alleged that, well, the thing is that the restaurants are suffering because of COVID. No, they’re suffering because democrat governors locked them down. This is a man-made phenomenon,” said Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) last August when the push to replenish the fund was first introduced.
“This isn’t a political issue. These are small local independent restaurants,” said Postal. “it like trickles down to like farmers and linen purveyors and dairy producers and delivery drivers and everything,” said Postal.
Postal says what happens next in Washington could determine the fate of his business.
“It’s just demoralizing. And I feel abandoned by our government.”
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