Jul 15, 2021 - Politics

Federal aid flowed to big restaurants in Colorado, analysis shows

Illustration of the Colorado flag, with a plate for a C, a knife and fork alongside it, and a dollar on the plate.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The majority of federal relief dollars for Colorado restaurants went to only a fraction of the state's applicants, a new Axios Denver analysis finds.

Why it matters: The $28.6 billion program administered by the Biden administration — and championed by Colorado U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper — ran out of money and left thousands of businesses without access to the aid.

The big picture: About 5,000 Colorado businesses applied for $1.1 billion from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the Denver Business Journal reported.

  • Of those, 1,762 restaurants, bars, caterers, food trucks, breweries and others received a collective $480 million.
  • The bulk went to Denver metro-area businesses.

A fraction — fewer than 8% — of businesses received more than 50% of the Colorado dollars, according to an Axios analysis of U.S. Small Business Administration data.

  • Four restaurateurs with multiple locations received the maximum $10 million, and other franchised chains topped the list, including Kentucky Fried Chicken, Golden Corral, Subway and Quiznos.
  • Another 76 businesses took home more than $1 million each.
  • About 46% of the successful applicants received $100,000 or less.

Context: The program sought to provide restaurants money equal to their pandemic-related revenue losses.

  • The fact the largest restaurant chains and companies took home the bulk of the dollars reflects their larger losses and their wherewithal to apply for the program.
Colorado disparities in federal restaurant relief
Data: SBA; Chart: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: The data shows disparities in the distribution of funds when grant recipients are compared to their respective population estimates.

  • 26% of the money went to restaurants in communities with low or moderate incomes, even though census data shows these populations represent 81% of Colorado.

Of note: The program initially prioritized women, veterans, and socially disadvantaged people to receive funds, but had to back off in the final stages because of a court ruling.

  • In Colorado, these groups received grants nearly on par with their population figures — but far smaller sums than other recipients.

What they're saying: Hickenlooper, a former brewpub owner, said the money will “help keep many doors open and restaurant workers on the job.”

The intrigue: Two businesses that received the maximum $10 million are close to Hickenlooper.

  1. The Breckenridge-Wynkoop restaurant group, which includes brewpubs the Democrat helped launch.
  2. Kitchen restaurant group. Hickenlooper officiated the wedding and flew on the private plane of Kimbal Musk, who started the company.

His office told The Denver Post that he never discussed their applications before they were approved.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more