Melvin Lockett remembers challenging moments.
“As restaurant owners, we didn’t know what was going on,” said Lockett, who owns Khi and Elis Food for the Soul in Holyoke and Springfield, restaurants named after his eldest sons.
In March 2020, Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order urging all non-material businesses to temporarily close.
“Three weeks became three months,” said Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, of the industry, which is limited to closing bars, restaurants and local events.
Lockett focused on offering take-out and delivery and focused on small business support programs.
“We couldn’t access PPP,” he said of the federal payment protection program that offered loans or grants through the Small Business Administration.
A new federal effort gives hope to him and thousands of other Massachusetts restaurant owners.
There is $ 28 billion for restaurants and bars within the $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package that millions of Americans have received stimulus checks through.
“Massachusetts will get the help it needs for our restaurants,” said Senator Ed Markey on a call Saturday with reporters and restaurant owners from across the state. The $ 28 billion will be distributed as grants, not loans, that entrepreneurs have to repay, with priority given to minority and women-owned companies, many of which were “at the bottom” of the paycheck protection program, Markey said.
Restaurants have the highest number of minority and female owners of any business in Massachusetts.
Of the $ 28 billion, Markey estimates hundreds of millions in grants coming to Massachusetts.
“I am confident this package will provide the boost businesses need,” said Markey, saying he is optimistic it will get businesses through spring into summer as herd immunity campaigns in the US lead to vaccination efforts could lead.
The industry was hardest hit nationwide and in Massachusetts.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts had over 16,000 restaurants, Luz said.
Since the restaurants closed last spring, 3,400 have not reopened in the Commonwealth.
In the past 12 months, 255,000 workers in Massachusetts have been given leave of absence. Of these, almost 90,000 have yet to be called back to work.
Restaurant revenue declined $ 7 billion in 2020, compared to $ 19.1 billion a year earlier.
Those effects are being felt in waves across their communities, says Jody Adams, owner of Postage in Boston.
For every dollar earned, 90 to 95 cents goes back to the community through wages, local vendor sales, and taxes, Adams said.
Comparing the industry to a canary in a coal mine, Adams stated that restaurants are often “the first industry to be wooed in a developing community” as their openings attract other industries to invest in the neighborhood.
Their closings are felt just as strongly, said Adams, speaking of the discomfort that pervades areas with boarded-up businesses.
“They’re the glue of our communities,” said Markey, of restaurants that serve as meeting rooms.
In the coming weeks, Luz said the Massachusetts Restaurant Association would work with the Small Business Administration to explain the American Rescue Plan grant application process directly to restaurant owners.
“We learned a lot over the past year,” Luz said of PPP and other programs. “We hope to create a training session to walk employees line by line through the application process.”