Restaurant Revitalization Fund Helps Provide Financial Aid For Staffing Problems During Post-Closure Business Boom | News | San Luis Obispo


Shawn Van Pelt, owner of Cool Hand Luke’s Steakhouse in Santa Maria, added 150 outdoor seats to his restaurant to account for pandemic restrictions last year. Considering the time and resources he spent on the addition, Van Pelt said he would like to continue to occupy those seats, especially as the economy reopens.

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  • Photo courtesy of Cool Hand Luke’s Facebook page
  • NEW CHALLENGES Cool Hand Luke’s Steakhouse has locations in Santa Maria and Paso Robles. Shawn Van Pelt, owner of the Santa Maria location, said staffing is his biggest challenge right now.

But he comes up against a new obstacle: the endowment.

“Unfortunately, at the moment I only open it for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays,” Van Pelt said of the outdoor seating area. “Only because I can’t staff it and staff the whole restaurant equally.”

Van Pelt said his staffing levels are in fact close to what he had before the pandemic. He still has about 90 percent of his crew. But demand for restaurant meals, he said, is at an all time high.

“The challenge today is the volume, which is good, we’re busy,” Van Pelt said. “But the challenge is to recruit enough employees.… With the volume we’re doing, I have to be 150% of what I was before COVID.”

During his 25 years in the industry, Van Pelt has said it is currently the hardest part for him to find workers.

“Every restaurant is in the same boat. All of my salespeople are in the same boat,” Van Pelt said. “The demand has increased for the volume, and they are unstaffed.”

Cool Hand Luke’s isn’t alone: ​​Jim Dantona, CEO of the SLO Chamber of Commerce, and Glenn Morris, CEO and President of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, both said staffing was the main focus struggle they heard about through local restaurants.

“They’re starting to pick up customers and people are excited to go out and eat out again,” Morris said. “But a lot of headwinds are related to staffing. It just takes longer to replenish the workforce, bring people back and train them.… One of the impacts of what we’re seeing in Right now, restaurants that were open maybe six or seven days a week before the pandemic are open for five right now. ”

Fortunately, restaurants in particular have new resources, such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which Congress passed as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The program provides restaurants with funding equal to their lost revenue from the pandemic, up to $ 10 million per business, with no obligation to repay funds as long as they are used by March 2023, according to the US Small Business Administration (SBA) website.

Van Pelt said his restaurant is applying for the fund.

U.S. Representative Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) voted in favor of the back-up plan and said the Restaurant Revitalization Fund is prioritizing small, local food and beverage establishments by processing their requests first this time around.

“I think they learned from the initial CARES package, where we had a rush of big business, and a lot of small family businesses, most of these restaurants, sort of entered later,” he said. -he declares. mentionned. “Therefore [the Restaurant Revitalization Fund] prioritizes disadvantaged small businesses first … which make up the majority of restaurants across the country. ”

After all of the new loan and grant programs offered to businesses over the past year, such as the widely used Paycheck Protection Program, Santa Maria Chamber CEO Morris said requests for help requests had decreased.

“Everyone has improved a lot in filling out these forms. … If you look back over a year ago, we were getting more and more calls from people about, ‘How does this work? Or’ What should I do? ‘, “Morris recalls. “There was just a lot of misunderstanding and a little nervousness, I think, at first.… I think people got past all of that, and it’s a new skill developed.”

The San Luis Obispo SCORE Chapter, which offers free business advice in SLO County and the Santa Maria Valley, has helped hundreds of local businesses apply for aid programs throughout the pandemic.

When the federal funding envelopes were first adopted, “we began to receive requests for assistance from companies because they did not fully understand the opportunities offered by the CARES Act,” said the president of the Horace Morana section in an email. “At that time, the Paycheck Protection Program (P3) and the Economic Disaster Lending Program (EIDL) were changing literally daily, even hour by hour. … We changed our system. customer support so that this [our SCORE mentors] Could [to] providing our customers with the information they desperately need. ”

As of March 2020, Morana said SCORE SLO has helped over 400 clients through SBA-focused workshops and mentored over 100 clients seeking loan advice. Today, SCORE mentors a handful of clients who navigate the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Carbajal said programs like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund are particularly important for rebuilding the Central Coast economy, given the importance of the hospitality industry here.

“Catering companies have been one of the hardest hit sectors in our country and on the central coast,” Carbajal said. “What this does is it allows them to stay afloat and recoup a lot of the expenses they had to incur to have outdoor meals, to have delivery and take out services. .… So this is absolutely essential in helping an industry that has been devastated. ”

And it’s not just restaurants that can apply: food stalls, food trucks, caterers, bars and some bakeries, tasting rooms, breweries, wineries and inns can also apply, under certain conditions.

“The flexibility and breadth of what’s included is really going to help stabilize restaurant businesses across the country and on the central coast,” Carbajal said.

While Cool Hand Luke owner Van Pelt has said there is a way to go until restaurants reach the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, he knows from experience that those who succeed will come out more. resilient.

“In the restaurant business over the past 80 to 100 years, it’s been a roller coaster ride,” Van Pelt said. “Those who succeed and keep changing… they succeed and they are stronger.” Δ

Malea Martin is an editor at the New Times’ partner newspaper, the Santa Maria Sun. She can be reached at [email protected]

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