NASHVILLE (WSMV) - Independent restaurants are calling for financial help from Congress to keep their doors open as the effects of the pandemic continue to linger.

They're asking for more money to be placed in the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. According to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, 86% of independent restaurants risk permanent closure without relief.

"We're still waiting for that second round of funding, "said RJ Cooper, chef and owner of Saint Stephen. "We're almost two years into this pandemic, and we're still not getting relief."

Saint Stephen is an independent restaurant in the Germantown area in Nashville established in 2019. Cooper said whether it's an independent restaurant his size or a small mom-and-pop, they all need help from Congress.

"Restaurants that have been operating between a 3 to 7% profit margin, which is basically the average, are now working check by check," Cooper said. "We still have landlords to pay, electricity, all our utilities, our team and staff, insurances. All that stuff has actually gone up as well."

He added that his operating expenses "have gone up probably 12 to 15% since the pandemic."

"So, we're all as survivors, trying to survive the list, trying to figure out how to stay in operation," Cooper said. "And trying to make sure our teams still have roofs over their heads and paychecks every two weeks and also keep the doors open at the restaurant."

The almost $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund created earlier this year ran out.

"Very few times in American history have individual and relatively small industries like this been singled out by Congress for help," U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said. "But the restaurants and music venues were the first to close, the last to reopen, and the ones hardest hit in the pandemic. So, they need help. They need help now, and we're trying to get them that help."

Rep. Cooper, a supporter of that funding, is now pushing for the bipartisan Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act. That act would add $60 billion to RRF.

"The $60 billion we're pushing hard for right now for our restaurants will be returned to taxpayers, to Americans many times over," Rep. Cooper said. "Some of our finest establishments are one of a kind, and that's why they are so awesome because they are able to build a market in normal times. But with a disease, with a pandemic, it's really been hard on them. It's unfair. It's not their fault. The money that's spent at hose establishments immediately goes back into the economy. It re-spent by everybody."

"We still need that funding. And the losses will generate and resonate for the next five years. But we're still losing money, and we're still not at a 100% capacity pre-pandemic," RJ Cooper added.

The federal financial support is something RJ said would keep what he describes as the fabric of communities across the country.

"What we're going to lose is walking out of your door to go to the mom-and-pop deli, or the bodega or the Taco truck or the small Indian restaurant," RJ Cooper said. "We're going to lose that in the next 18 months if there is not anybody to help lift us to support us."

At his restaurant Saint Stephen, RJ Cooper said they have had to be creative with surviving, including being open five days a week instead of seven. RJ Cooper said he doesn't think they'll return to seven days for a while.

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