CHRISTINA TKACIK, The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE, Md. (AP) – More than 100 years after his great-grandfather first opened his seafood stall in Baltimore’s Lexington Market, Damye Hahn, owner of Faidley Seafood, and his son Will, traveled to Washington to help ensure the sustainability of the family business. Following.
Hahn spoke at a press conference Wednesday sponsored by the Independent Restaurant Coalition, an advocacy group urging Congress to replenish the federal government’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund, designed to help businesses that have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many restaurants like Hahn’s were denied aid in the first round of funding, which provided more than 100,000 grants but had more than twice as many applicants.
“There are 177,000 people who have been left out, we have to piece together the whole program,” she said.
The event in Tortilla Coast, a few blocks from the United States Capitol and a regular haunt for lawmakers and staff, according to the restaurant owner, included two members of Congress working on legislation to provide $ 60 billion. additional dollars to restore the fund.
âThe neighborhood restaurant is an essential part of livable communities,â said Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon and sponsor of the Restaurant Revitalization Replenishment Act. “Restaurant owners already have enough debt, they don’t need more debt, they needed cash to weather this storm.”
Restaurant owners have criticized the US Small Business Administration’s initial deployment of the $ 28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund because it unfairly selects the winners and losers in the economy. Those who received funding in the first round of grant distribution – including large companies such as The Greene Turtle, Phillip’s Seafood, and various restaurants in the Atlas Restaurant Group – are in a better position to compete for resources and manpower. works at a time when the prices of both are skyrocketing.
Zack Mills, executive chef and partner of True Chesapeake Oyster Co., which operates a restaurant in Hampden and food stalls in Mount Vernon and Virginia, said the three companies have been denied funding through the federal program. after the money has run out.
“How long can you float?” Mills said, adding that his businesses “have been operating at a loss for a year and a half now.”
In the first aid delivery cycle, Congress initially mandated that priority be given to businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans. Faidley Seafood is one of nearly 3,000 companies that have been approved for funding before their priority is blocked in litigation.
Over the summer, Hahn and other Baltimore-area business owners who had run out of funding through the program staged behind Thiru Vignarajah, a former deputy state attorney general, who signed as door -speak of their cause. The group has set up a website for restaurant owners to share the issues they have encountered in receiving funding. The group got over 400 responses.
Although initially intended for business owners in Maryland only, the group quickly began to hear from people across the country – from candy makers in California to a supplier of fried chicken in Kansas, Hahn said.
âEvery state in this country has people who applied and were not funded,â she said.
Among the complaints is the fact that those who have received funds are able to raise wages and poach employees of companies that have lost and are in difficulty.
âI talk to restaurants that say, ‘I haven’t had any relief. I cannot increase the salaries of my employees. But those who got relief are now calling my employees and stealing from them. And now I have no one left, âshe said.
Hahn had originally planned to help only companies that, like his own, had been approved for funding only to see him withdrawn. But after realizing the magnitude of the problem – two-thirds of applicants received nothing, she began to see it differently. The hospitality industry is like “a brotherhood or a sorority,” she said. âEveryone came together to help each other. “
By collaborating with the Independent Restaurant Coalition, Hahn honed his media acumen. She retained the promotion of the cause when the United States left Afghanistan. Amid all the commotion, “no one was going to talk about restaurants,” she said. “We said, okay, this is the wrong news cycle.”
Hahn hopes the time is right.
She praised U.S. Senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin, a Democrat who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and led an effort to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. In August, he asked for unanimous consent to pass a law that would add $ 48 billion to the fund, calling it “a matter of fairness and absolute necessity.” The bill was blocked by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a Republican who argued that restaurant aid would only add to the country’s growing debt and encourage future lockdowns.
âThis is the day I think I threw the shoe on TV,â Hahn said.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Cardin said the senator “is working to advance bipartisan proposals, including targeted relief for restaurants and other small businesses still struggling under the burden of COVID-19.” .
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is one of multiple issues Hahn said she was bringing to the attention of lawmakers. Others include the lack of visas available for crab gatherers – an issue that she says has contributed to soaring crabmeat prices and threatens the crab industry as a whole.
“For these poor crab processors, there are only 11 left on the east coast,” she said. “What happens if they leave?” “
Mills and others in attendance on Wednesday expressed concern about what the coming months will hold in store as the most contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads and many restaurants see a drop in bookings.
“Are you wondering how long is this going to last versus how long we can last?” ” he said.
Tortilla Coast owner Geoff Tracy has called himself one of the “lucky few operators who have received relief” through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The money, he said, has allowed him to survive the past 18 months: bring back 200 employees and make the necessary repairs. Still, he noted, overall sales are down about 75% from pre-pandemic levels.
At Faidley Seafood, the restaurant’s woes sound like proof of Murphy’s Law. Half of its business comes from tourism, a sector of the economy that all but disappeared in 2020. While the restaurant’s income fell 70% during the pandemic, its spending has not changed. The city continued to charge the company’s rent at Lexington Market. Staff still had to be paid.
There are also more mundane stressors, from air conditioning issues at Lexington Market to a plastic shortage that affects everything from mugs to the individually wrapped packets of salt the restaurant serves with cod and soup, said. Hahn. The price of cooking oil has doubled. After a year of upheaval, Hahn believes it will be years before the supply chain stabilizes.
Despite the headaches, Hahn has no plans to close the family business.
After five generations and 135 years, hers will not be “the generation to throw in the towel,” she said, walking with her son near the United States Capitol on a cloudless fall afternoon. . The company, she pointed out, survived not only the Great Depression and the two world wars, but also the flu epidemic of 1918.
â’Quit’ is not part of our vocabulary,â she said. “That’s the reason I’m here.”
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