Restaurateurs say grants helpful, but more money needed

Restaurateurs say grants helpful, but more money needed

Restaurants and other food service businesses can apply for up to $10,000 starting Friday

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The Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation is accepting applications for grants of up to $10,000 for restaurants and other food services starting on Friday. The application period runs through Dec. 4.

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Restaurateurs in Montgomery County say they are grateful for grants of up to $10,000 that will soon be distributed by the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. But they say the money isn’t nearly enough.

Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this month set aside $8.2 million in grant funding for restaurants in the county as part of a larger economic recovery package during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday the County Council voted to authorize the MCEDC to administer the grant program.

Ronnie Heckman, the owner of Caddie’s on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda, told Bethesda Beat Thursday that any amount of money is helpful, but $10,000 isn’t that much in the long run.

“It’s appreciated. But I don’t see that making or breaking a restaurant’s future,” he said. “You have some [restaurateurs] that are in six figures worth of debt because of their rent.”

Heckman noted that PassionFish’s closure in Bethesda over the weekend was due, in-part, to the fact that the restaurant couldn’t afford to pay its rent. Utilities, he said, add to the expense.

Restaurants, breweries, wineries, caterers and food trucks are eligible to apply for the grant starting Friday. The application period runs through Dec. 4.

Heckman said most restaurant owners are “stuck between a rock and a hard place” when it comes to doing what it takes to keep people safe during the pandemic and staying afloat financially. He said he’ll apply for the grant because “every little bit helps.”

Marcel The, the co-owner of Raku on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda, said in an interview on Thursday that any financial help for the restaurant industry in general is appreciated. But he thinks $10,000 might not be sufficient for winter expenses. The said that tents can cost between $3,000 and $5,000 per month to rent, which doesn’t include the cost of heating them.

“The winterizing of our restaurants costs a lot of money, whether it be tents, heaters, the propane, the fuel. There’s so many things involved just to get us going through the winter,” he said.

The said he wants people to understand that $10,000 “goes very, very quickly” for restaurant owners.

“There has to be more aid from the government level to give a more helping hand through the spring. Because the vaccine won’t be helping us until well into next year,” he said.

Montgomery County, earlier this month, restricted indoor seating capacity at restaurants to 25% in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases. Indoor capacity had previously been at 50%.

Robert Wiedmaier, who owns Wildwood Kitchen in Bethesda, Mussel Bar and Grille in downtown Bethesda, and Lock 72 Kitchen & Bar in Potomac, and is a business partner at Tommy Joe’s in Bethesda, said Thursday that $10,000 won’t make a huge difference in a restaurant’s bottom line when only 25% occupancy is allowed..

“It’s nice to get money from Montgomery County. I’m not gonna complain about that. But that money gets eaten up so fast,” he said.

Still, Wiedmaier said that the money will be beneficial to many struggling business owners.

“Some people might put [the money] toward payroll. Some people might put it towards the cost of goods, like paying your vendors. Some people might have to pay rent. So, every situation’s going to be different,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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