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It’s a bit of an understatement to say that our restaurants are struggling, and independent eateries have been hit the hardest. The Independent Restaurant Coalition, a pandemic-formed group advocating for small local restaurants, estimates that 85 percent of independent restaurants could close within six months. Let that sink in—of your go-to Thai, hole-in-the-wall taqueria, local pizza parlor, and special occasion spot, only one may survive. While the fast food chains have seen only a modest decline in business, fine and casual dining restaurants have plummeted 85 and 65 percent, respectively. And in an industry that makes up nearly 9 percent of employment in Colorado and contributes $13.9 billion to the state’s economy, the impact goes well beyond our palates.
A new federal bill, called the Real Economic Support that Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive Act (or RESTAURANTS Act), hopes to save those independent businesses by providing $120 billion in grants to the mom and pops. Those grants, which don’t need to be paid back, are to make up the difference in revenue between 2019 and the dire 2020 projections. The money can be spent on payroll, rent, benefits, food costs, and other eligible expenses. Even better? The proposed legislation specifically targets small businesses owned by women, BIPOC, and veterans, with $60 million set aside for outreach to these types of restaurants to make sure they know the help available to them. And the first 14 days of funds are only available to the smallest of the small, to restaurants with $1.5 million or less in annual revenue.
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Bobby Stuckey, master sommelier and owner of Frasca Hospitality Group (Frasca Food & Wine, Tavernetta, Pizzeria Locale, and Sunday Vinyl), has been instrumental in getting the RESTAURANTS Act to Congress via his work as a founding member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Stuckey has devoted hours to speaking with senators and representatives across the country, educating them on how critical these small restaurants are to our economy.
“I’ve been in the restaurant industry my whole life, and I didn’t know it was this fragile until March 17. If I didn’t know how many jobs we made up, what we meant to the food supply chain, how do you expect your congressman to know?” Stuckey says.
The bipartisan RESTAURANTS Act was introduced by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and, according to Stuckey, has the support of the following Colorado congressional members: Reps. Diana DeGette (D), Joe Neguse (D), Jason Crow (D), and Ed Perlmutter (D), and Sen. Cory Gardner (R). He says the Act still needs the support of Reps. Scott Tipton (R), Doug Lamborn (R), and Ken Buck (R), and Sen. Michael Bennet (D).
“This is not a Republican or Democratic thing,” Stuckey says. “I think this speaks to how important this is—when a political leader realizes what’s at stake. It’s not a partisan issue. We’ve got some crazy bedfellows who wrote this bill.”
If you’d like to see the RESTAURANTS Act passed, the best thing you can do to help it along is to contact your elected officials and explain independent restaurants’ importance to our communities and economy. Congress is currently on recess until mid-September, but Stuckey hopes that action now could get the proposed legislation put into the most recent coronavirus relief package, which is likely to be voted on sooner rather than later.
“Reach out to congress people and senators and let them know this is so important,” he says. “Even though they’re not in session, their email and phones still work.”