PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s restaurant industry continues to struggle as the pandemic keeps people cooped up at home, but a new grant program will soon offer some help to those businesses.
“The restaurants are barely sustainable at 100%, and at 50%, it’s terrible,” Eat Drink RI owner David Dadekian said.
Eat Drink RI is a marketing and advocacy group for food and beverage businesses in Rhode Island.
“I really just try and spread the word of local food and drink,” Dadekian added.
While some restrictions were eased last week, including the reopening of bar seating, restaurants still have to operate at 50% capacity, which Dadekian says affects more than just the restaurant industry.
“You can’t employ as many people, you can’t have as much staff, you’re not buying as much local product from local purveyors, you’re not going to be using services from local businesses,” he explained. “It trickles down the entire economy, really.”
In an effort to help the restaurant industry, Uber Eats and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) have launched a $4.5 million grant program.
“We’re happy to bring this national resource to bear in Rhode Island because we know our restaurants are hurting,” said Liz Klinkenberg, LISC Rhode Island’s communications director.
Restaurants can apply for a $5,000 grant starting on Tuesday, Feb. 16. To be eligible, they must have no more than 50 employees per location, an annual gross revenue of less than $3 million per location, and not be associated with a national brand.
“They apply through the LISC website and we will evaluate to make sure they meet all of the eligibility requirements,” Klinkenberg said. “LISC is targeting underserved communities, but that’s not to say that if you’ve got a restaurant that’s not in a community that’s underserved that you wouldn’t be eligible.”
Businesses awarded the grant can use the money for immediate needs including payroll, rent, utilities, or to pay off debt to vendors.
Dadekian issued a reminder to consumers who use services like Uber Eats.
“Any of those services, they charge a good amount of money back to the restaurants that you’re not seeing as a consumer,” he said. “Remember to tip very well. Do as best you can, because sometimes these services take up to 30% from a restaurant.”
According to Klinkenberg, LISC Rhode Island distributed close to $16 million in grants to underserved communities last year.
“Typically, we distribute about $10 million a year in direct grant responses, but this year it’s been off the charts,” she added.
She also said the group offers several other programs to help underserved communities statewide.
“There are two programs in particular that are both community development block grant programs,” Klinkenberg explained.
One created in partnership with the city of Providence offers up to $10,000 to qualifying small business “micro-enterprises,” while the other has working capital grants for small businesses in other communities.
Over the past 30 years, LISC has invested more than $450 million in Rhode Island, Klinkenberg said, focusing on small business development as well as supporting affordable housing and child care and early learning facilities.
“Anything and everything that we need to do to ensure that community members have everything they need in order to thrive,” she said.
Learn more about the restaurant grant program and apply here.