Senator Menendez Joins Mayor Bhalla, Hoboken Officials, Restaurant Owners to Highlight New Funding for Food Establishments

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez joined Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla on Friday to highlight a new  $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund that was included in the American Rescue Plan (ARP), signed into law last week, to help struggling restaurants and bars that have been economically impacted by the pandemic. These establishments can use the funding to keep their doors open, cover COVID-related expenses, and pay their employees, rent and utilities. Hoboken was the first city in the entire nation to close bars and restaurants last year, affecting many of the city’s mom and pop establishments.

“It’s been a difficult year for mom and pop restaurant and bar owners in Hoboken and across New Jersey. This grant program is a much-needed lifeline for so many struggling restaurants and can mean the difference between an ‘Open’ or ‘Closed’ sign on their front door. I fought hard for this funding and I’m proud to say ‘help is on the way’,” said Sen. Menendez. “Early on in the pandemic Mayor Bhalla made tough but necessary choices in order to protect the health and safety of his community. He has been one of the strongest advocates for robust, targeted funding for the restaurant industry and I appreciate his leadership in our state.”

“Brighter days are ahead for Hoboken and our hospitality industry, in large part thanks to the historic American Rescue Plan championed by Senator Menendez and our New Jersey federal elected officials. This new critical and targeted funding source from the economic relief bill will make a difference for our struggling restaurant and bar owners as they recover from the substantial financial impact caused by the pandemic,” said Mayor Bhalla. “I thank Senator Menendez for hearing my continued feedback over the past several months, as he fought tooth and nail in the Senate to help secure this added resource for our restaurants, bars and eateries – the heart and soul of our community.”

Because of the necessary lockdowns and restaurant capacity limits that were imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the food service industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors. According to a study by the National Restaurant Association, 110,000 restaurants and bars have been closed temporarily or for good, as of December. The study also found that up to eight million restaurant employees were laid off or furloughed during the height of the lockdowns last year. In New Jersey alone, 30% of restaurants have been closed permanently or temporarily, impacting over 350,000 jobs.

“We stand here today, a year after we were forced to close due to the effects of a virus that crippled our state and our nation. The impact that COVID-19 had on the hospitality industry was devastating and life changing. There was nothing that prepared us for the challenges that needed to be faced,” said Jeanne Cretella, a member of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association. “But, what was apparent from the very beginning, was how fortunate we are in New Jersey to have someone like Senator Menendez who recognized that our industry needed and deserved special attention. His determination to pass robust and targeted funding for restaurants and bars will ensure establishments have access to much-needed federal relief. If you’re a suffering restaurant, and after 12 months most of us are, we now have the ability to plan ahead, rebuild our teams and strengthen our communities.”

The ARP established a $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which is based on the RESTAURANTS Act that Senator Menendez cosponsored. The program will provide up to $10 million in grants to eligible restaurants, bars and eateries. The funds can be used to cover the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other upgrades to protect customers and staff from COVID, in addition to payroll, mortgage or rent, supplies, utilities, paid sick leave and other operational expenses. In general, restaurants will receive grants that equal the difference between their 2019 and 2020 gross receipts.

In an effort to target funding to the smallest small businesses and minority-owned businesses, $5 billion is set aside for restaurants with 2019 gross receipts of $500,000 or less. Also, for the first 21 days that the program is open, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is required to prioritize applications from businesses owned by women, veterans and those in disadvantaged communities.

Sen. Menendez and Mayor Bhalla held a press conference outside the Madison Bar & Grill in a heated, outdoor eating space which owner Dave Carney spent thousands to construct on Washington Street to help offset indoor dining restrictions.

“Like many other restaurants in Hoboken and New Jersey, we’ve been hit hard by the pandemic. This funding could not come at a better time, and will help us as we survive until we get back to full capacity,” said Dave Carney. “We’ll utilize this grant funding to pay rent, staff, and help make up for lost revenue as we overcome the pandemic for good. Thank you to Senator Menendez for championing this funding in the Senate, and to Mayor Bhalla for advocating for our restaurants and helping keep our community safe.”

“Thank you to Senator Menendez for getting this new federal funding passed, and to Mayor Bhalla for advocating for it. This will allow restaurants to see past the day to day, week to week stress of whether or not they can make it through another week,” said Anthony Pino, owner of Bin14 and Anthony David’s. “Instead, they can now focus on business efficiency and strengthen their core business strengths while retaining employees, as we head into less restrictions and warmer weather ahead.”

“As a restaurant in Hoboken for the past 81 years, we knew we would come out on the other side of this. But seeing my employees every day and the uncertainty in their eyes was a hard thing to watch. It was especially difficult because our core staff have been with us for an average of 25 years. So these people are family, not employees,” said Grace Sciancalepore, owner of Leo’s Grandevous.  “Although all of us would rather work than receive a handout, these funds will circulate back into the business so that our employees will benefit in the end. Thank you Sen. menendez for allocating this money to our industry. Please know that everyone at Leo’s, whether it’s the head chef or our bussers, will benefit from this money.”