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Independent restaurants feel left out of Congress $1.5 trillion Omnibus deal


A Nashville restaurant owner said he's had to sell personal belongings to keep his restaurant open.
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 6:50 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A Nashville independent restaurant owner said he’s had to sell personal belongings just to keep his restaurant going and the owner Of Love & Exile Wines is intensifying the call for Congress to add funds to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Congress just passed a $1.5 Trillion Omnibus deal, and it didn’t include money for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Tyler Alkins, Owner of Love & Exile Wines said his business surviving has been harder without financial help from the federal government and adds federal financial help would help cut the millions of dollars in cost incurred for his restaurant from the March 2020 tornadoes and the COVID19 Pandemic and even now, the potential impact of rising gas prices on independent restaurants

“It’s really challenging for sure,” said Tyler Alkins, the Owner of Love & Exile Wines in East Nashville.

A challenge compounded by no financial relief from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

“We never saw any of that money. No, we were approved for funds, but we did not receive them,” said Alkins.

“Unfortunately, as amazing as it was to have the American Rescue plan include the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, it was terribly underfunded and it only provided 28.6 billion dollars,” said Erika Polmar – Executive Director of The Independent Restaurant Coalition.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition came together in March 2020 when the pandemic began realizing they wanted a voice in places where policies were made.

“Now a grassroots advocacy network of over 100,000 that are actively supporting the recovery for independent restaurants across the country,” said Polmar. “Our primary purpose has been to fight for financial relief,” she added.

Polmar said when the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was first opened, about 300,000 restaurants and bars applied, and she added only 1/3 of restaurants that applied have received relief.

“That means that nearly 200,000 restaurants have their applications languishing in the portal and they have been waiting more than a year for relief,” Polmar said. “Folks That have received funding have the resource that they need to deal with skyrocketing prices, to pay their staff well, and to pay back rent and all the debt they accrued while they were closed. Those that haven’t don’t have that resource and they are personally leveraged,” she added.

Independent restaurants have been calling for Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. And Independent Restaurants can’t believe they weren’t included in the new trillion-dollar deal passed by congress.

‘We are pretty shocked, to be honest with you. Very disappointed. I assumed it was kind of a given. We’ve been hearing for so long that it would be replenished,” said Alkins.

News 4′s Tosin Fakile Reached out to Congressman Jim Cooper, who had pushed for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund initially and for its replenishment. Here is a statement he sent:

Nothing stops restaurants from seeking more money in later legislation, and I support such help for restaurants. This bill was already six months late in passing and could not be delayed further.”- U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05)

“We recently did a survey of restaurants and we found out not only are 80% of those who haven’t received support on the verge of permanent closure, but we also have seen more than 20% selling a personal asset,” said Polmar.

A struggle that Restaurant owner Tyler Alkins can relate to

“We were really concerned obviously about tornado insurance and covid, so I sold a property just to generate some cash just to get through the first few months of the pandemic,” Alkins said.

“It was kind of necessary. I just didn’t want to take any chances of being short on cash or having to struggle too bad through the early parts of the pandemic knowing we were going to be shut down, and we weren’t sure what kind of support we were going to get for our employees,” he added.

And no help from congress has made dealing with newer concerns tougher for this East Nashville Restaurant owner. Including Supply chain issues

“We see everything going up. We’re seeing additional delivery charges on things. We’re seeing the cost of all of our food, inputs, glassware, plate ware, everything is going up substantially,” Alkins said.

And a new concern he is keeping a close eye on is the possible fallout from the rise in gas prices.

“Paying almost double for gas certainly will reduce your available cash to go for luxury things like restaurants. So, I think we will feel it for sure,” he added.

Both independent restaurant owners and the bodies that speak up for them have a message for Congress.

“We have a pretty tight budget and we run really lean just like most independent restaurants,” Alkins said. “Our message would be that we would certainly appreciate the funding,” he added.

“It is time for Congress and the white house to recognize that these small businesses are important to our economy and to provide them the relief that they need and it’s time for everybody that loves their local restaurants and bars to step up and advocate on behalf of them as well.”

Alkin’s restaurant Love & Exile Wines reopened in September 2021. He said they don’t have enough resources to open at all hours and they are paying 25 to 30% more to hire staff.

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