CONWAY — Applications for the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund opened Monday at noon, and according to Amy Bassett, district director for the U.S. Small Business Association for New Hampshire, "We had a good rollout."

"We have done several webinars on the program, including one with the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council on Monday," the Concord-based Bassett said Tuesday.

"We have another one scheduled with the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce for May 11 at 11 a.m., which people may register for by going to mtwashingtonvalley.org," she added. 

Bassett said unlike the Paycheck Protection Program, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund is a grant, not a loan.

She encourages all restaurant-related businesses to go to sba.gov/restaurants to get all the details.

Registrations began online on April 30 at restaurants.sba.gov. According to the SBA, The online application will remain open to any eligible establishment until all funds are exhausted. Funds must be used for allowable expenses by March 11, 2023.

According to a press release issued by the SBA’s Cheryl Croto, public affairs specialist, for the first 21 days that the program is open, the SBA will prioritize funding applications from businesses owned and controlled by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

After that, all eligible applications will be funded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Established under the American Rescue Plan, and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund provides $28.6 billion in direct relief funds to restaurants and other hard-hit food establishments that have experienced economic distress and significant operational losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This program will provide restaurants with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss upto $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location.

The SBA recommends qualifying applicants familiarize themselves with the application process in advance to ensure a smooth and efficient application experience, specifically by:

• Reviewing the official guidance, including program guide, frequently asked questions, and application sample.

• Preparing the required documentation.

• Working with a point-of-sale vendor or visiting restaurants.sba.gov to submit an application when the application portal opens. Note: If an applicant is working with a point-of-sale vendor, they do not need to register beforehand on the site.

Consistent with the legislation and the intent of Congress, the SBA continues to take steps to ensure the equitable distribution of relief, particularly for the smallest businesses, by creating a $9.5 billion set-aside:

• $5 billion for applicants with 2019 gross receipts of not more than $500,000.

• $4 billion is set aside for applicants with 2019 gross receipts from $500,001 to $1,500,000.

• $500 million for applicants with 2019 gross receipts not more than $50,000.

Mike Somers, CEO/president of the New Hampshire Hospitality and Lodging Association, agreed with Bassett that any and all New Hampshire restaurant-related businesses ought to explore the RRF program.

He said many businesses took a hit from the pandemic and restrictions on capacity. He said this program is what is needed to give a lift to restaurants in the state.

"We have been encouraging every restaurant we spoke to to submit an application and to look into it," Somers said Tuesday. "Frankly, it has been a challenging year and while some are just starting to come out of it, they still need help as we prepare for a busy start to the summer Memorial Day."

Wally Campbell, executive director of the Valley Originals, a group of 24 locally owned restaurants, said he did not know how many local restaurants plan to apply for a RRF grant but said he was sure many will.

Campbell said many local establishments had a strong summer last year after instituting outdoor dining in with the collaboration of town governments in such local towns such as Jackson, Bartlett and Conway.

“I think that all of the restaurants who applied for the town permits last year will be doing it again,” said Campbell.

John Eastman, Conway Parks and Recreation Department director, is again overseeing the issuance of the outdoor dining permits in Conway per order of selectmen.

Lenore Wagner of the Conway Parks and Recreation Department said so far the town has received 10 permit applications, compared to 22 last year. Those 10 establishments are Cathedral Ledge Distillery, Merlino’s, Tuckerman Brewing Co., Sea Dog, 27 North, Boston Brothers Pizzeria, Moat Mountain Smokehouse, Muddy Moose and Wicked Fresh.

Campbell said restaurants are preparing for a busy season ahead, though the challenge of finding staffers continues to loom large.

“You’ve got dishwashers making $13-$15 an hour,” said Campbell. “There are many Valley Originals offering incentives just to keep their employees. And what doesn't help is when the federal government is offering these extended unemployment checks."

Campbell continued: "I am glad to see that starting May 23, Gov. Sununu is going to make it so that those receiving unemployment checks have to resume going back to look for work. It has taken away the incentive for people to work and it’s not right,” said Campbell, shaking his head at the lack of incentive for some employees to go back to work rather than take a government stipend.

Somers and Campbell said many restaurants are being forced to cut back their days and hours of operation due to the lack of help.

That difficult situation is compounded by constraints on the J-1 visa program that allowed foreign workers to come and work during their college vacations.

The ski industry and the restaurant business have been especially hurt by that policy, which has continued under the Biden administration due to the ongoing health concerns.

The MWV Chamber of Commerce hosted a webinar presentation on the J-1 program challenges during its online virtual Business Expo April 27, with Expo coordinator/chamber assistant director Michelle Cruz of the MWV Chamber WMWV 93.5-FM news that it continues to “be a challenging situation.” Sommers agreed, noting that American consulates in many of the countries have been closed, making it difficult ot process J-1 requests from potential overseas workers who want to come to America to work.

A link to that discussion is available through the expo’s web site, mwvexpo.com

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