Saturday was a big win for the restaurant industry when the Senate passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that increased a grant program for restaurants to $28.6 billion.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, modeled after last year's Restaurants Act, was backed by Sen. Chuck Schumer and championed by leaders with the Independent Restaurant Coalition, an organization composed of hundreds of bar and restaurant owners who have fought for government assistance since April 2020.
One of the group's co-founders, Tom Colicchio, owner of Crafted Hospitality in New York, hailed the latest progress as a light at the end of what has been a long, dark tunnel for the industry.
"One year ago, independent restaurants and bars didn’t have a seat at the table in Washington. Today we are more organized than ever and delivered the first ever grant relief program for the industry," he said. "This relief fund gives hope to the entire independent restaurant and bar community -- line cooks, managers, bartenders, and operators from coffee shops, food trucks, bakeries and bistros can rest a bit more soundly tonight knowing help is on the way."
"With Biden’s signature, local restaurants and bars will soon have access to grants they've needed for a long time, not loans like PPP, that failed to prevent the loss of 2 million jobs from the industry," the IRC said in a statement.
Erika Polmar, executive director of the IRC, added, “Independent restaurants and bars came together at the beginning of the pandemic with the hope that by working together for the first time, our industry could make a big impact -- and that’s what we did."
Other leaders who have pushed for rescue plans, including Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said the passage of dedicated direct relief is "incredibly hopeful."
New York City’s restaurants and bars "will now receive direct grants to help pay rent, payroll, vendors expenses and more," Rigie said. "The passage of the American Rescue Plan will save countless small businesses and jobs, and serve as a critical milestone on the path to recovery. We thank Senate Majority Leader Schumer for his partnership and exceptional leadership, and our New York congressional delegation for fighting for this crucial restaurant industry support."
The relief bill passed with all Senate Democrats supporting and all Republicans opposing.