Jul 14, 2021 - Food and Drink

Most Arkansas applicants miss out on Restaurant Revitalization Fund

The outside of the restaurant Cheers at the OPO

Cheers at the OPO was one of more than 50 operations in Fayetteville to get a federal grant. It was awarded nearly $1.6 million. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

The Small Business Administration's Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) will give grants to fewer than 30% of the Arkansas companies that applied for the money.

What's happening: The American Rescue Plan established the RRF to help restaurants and other eligible businesses keep their doors open during the pandemic.

  • Owners could apply for grants to offset their losses over the past year.

Yes, but: The fund closed at the end of June, after it exhausted $28.6 billion in federal relief, leaving more than 277,000 applicants without a grant.

By the numbers: 1,887 Arkansas businesses applied for grants. Of those, 512 received awards totaling $93.4 million.

  • 117 companies in Benton and Washington counties received awards of $27.2 million, nearly 30% of the statewide total, according to SBA data.
  • Examples of those on the list include Jetty Entertainment of Fayetteville, parent company of JJ's Grill, which will receive $2.3 million; Cheers at the Old Post Office in Fayetteville ($1.6 million); Iron Horse Cafe in Rogers ($157,445); and Shogun of Bentonville ($214,894).

Why it matters: The money is expected to be a lifeline for restaurants that are struggling to stay afloat due to rising food prices and worker shortages, even as consumers have started eating out again.

Source: Small Business Administration. Chart: Axios Visuals

Flashback: The SBA initially gave priority access to small businesses that are majority-owned by women, veterans, or those who are socially and economically disadvantaged by giving them a 21-day head start on the application process.

  • Since the funds were allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis, some business owners that don't fall into those categories sued and judges agreed the process was discriminatory.
  • As a result, nearly 3,000 restaurant owners who had received award letters had grants rescinded in mid-June. It's unclear if any of them were Arkansas businesses.

Zoom in: One NWA company that applied but didn't receive a grant before money ran out was Feltner Brothers of Fayetteville.

  • The money would've been helpful to keep the business in the black, but the brothers can still operate without it, Chase Feltner tells Axios.
  • "We'll take our licks as they come," Feltner said.

What to watch: Montine McNulty, CEO of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, said she's working with the National Restaurant Association to push Congress to pass the RRF Replenishment Act to provide the SBA with more funds.


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