Some West Marin restaurants received significant federal grants from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, but others were left out when the fund—originally meant to prioritize women, veterans and people of color—ran out of money last month.
The R.R.F., set aside in March by President Biden’s Covid stimulus bill, approved over 100,000 restaurants for grants averaging $272,000. Qualifying restaurants received enough to recuperate last year’s losses. For many owners, the grants are reassurances that their businesses can make it to next year; restaurants don’t have to pay them back if they spend the money within two years.
The Station House Café, which was on the verge of closing last year, qualified for more than $1.1 million. The restaurant lost twice that amount in revenue last year. “It sounds like a lot of money, because it is,” owner Sheryl Cahill said. “It’s more than a band-aid: We’ve got a little gauze wrap.”
She said funds from the Paycheck Protection Program barely allowed her to stay on top of expenses. “Each time the P.P.P. came through, we were about a week away from not making payroll,” she said.
Ms. Cahill’s other restaurant in town, Side Street Kitchen, received a grant of about $166,000. The funds mean that even though her restaurants are still operating at only 40 percent of their 2019 revenue, she can keep all her employees, and pay her rent and utilities, for at least another 10 months. “It takes the edge off a little bit about how we’re going to keep people working through the winter,” she said.
In Bolinas, Smiley’s Schooner Saloon received about $238,000, the Coast Cafe got roughly $193,000, Eleven nabbed just over $153,000, and BoVida brought in $38,000. Elsewhere in West Marin, the Pump Espresso Bar qualified for just under $81,000 and Olema’s Sir and Star got about $849,000. All six businesses are owned, fully or partially, by women.
Other restaurants applied but were left out when the funds dried up. Luc Chamberland, who owns Saltwater Oyster Depot, said he applied for a grant that accounted for the restaurant’s major losses last year. He is not a member of any of the prioritized groups, but he hoped the funds would eventually reach him. “We’d still be eligible for a good amount, and that would be helpful for weathering the ongoing uncertainties,” he said. The program ended before Mr. Chamberland heard back.
In June, a group of white restaurant owners backed by conservative legal groups sued the federal government, alleging that prioritizing people of color was discriminatory and violated the constitution. Federal judges agreed, and the lawsuit put a stop to the policy, leading the Small Business Administration to begin awarding grants to non-priority applicants in late May. The government then rescinded thousands of grants, all promised to women, people of color and veterans, and funds ran out before it could return to them. As a result, many restaurant owners who didn’t meet the initial priority descriptions still received grants.
The Pelican Inn in Muir Beach got almost $874,000, although its owner, Edward Cunningham, did not fall into any of the prioritized categories. Hog Island Oyster Company, which operates five restaurants, was granted the most of any business in the county: more than $4.6 million. The company’s owners, John Finger and Terry Sawyer, qualified as low-to-moderate income, but did not fall into any of the other priority groups.
The Station House was prepared, and lucky, to receive the funding, Ms. Cahill said. She attended industry webinars, and read advice from the Treasury Department. “That’s been my whole job this year, trying to get funding for this place,” she said. “I had my alarm set for first thing in the morning on the day the applications were open.” But, she added, it’s important that restaurant owners fight for the two thirds of applicants who haven’t received the funding yet.