Is your local business struggling during the pandemic? Wake Forward is looking to provide funds

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Even as North Carolina is set to move towards Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan Friday, many businesses are still facing uphill battles to survive.

For Wok on Fire in Cary, which opened to great fanfare in January, it's been a massive shift in their plans.

"Valentine's Day, we had people waiting outside for hours to get in," said co-owner Sudy Upadhyaya, a co-owner.

Weeks later, they were forced to shut down.

"We opened back up in June, and business was at 20% of what we used to make," Upadhyaya said, adding that it is now closer to 30% of pre-pandemic business.

"A lot of people understand, we are counting on the community to help us come back," noted Prashanth Jathan, a co-owner of Wok on Fire, speaking of returning customers.

Between strict restrictions and customers' hesitance to return to sit-in dining, the owners searched for financial support.

"The pandemic came and the bank said we cannot do any loans for the restaurants anymore," said Upadhyaya.

Also complicating efforts was the fact they were open for such a short period, making it difficult to show a consistent ability to pay back loans or prolonged revenue streams.

That's when they turned to Wake Forward, a program funded by the CARES ACT, set up to provide assistance to local businesses.

"We're generally working with low-income individuals, people of color, etc. that do not have those networks necessarily that can provide that capital," said Jonathan Brereton, the Executive Director of Threat Capital, the non-profit firm helping run the program.

Businesses can receive up to $250,000, a sharp increase from the initial limit of $50,000.

The first 18 months have a quarter percent interest rate, and there is no mandated payment due in that time period. Businesses have up to a decade to pay it back.

"It is definitely helpful for any real business people to recuperate with the benefits, and get back to normal business," said Srini Kasula, a co-owner of Wok on Fire.

"We want to ensure that as many businesses as possible make it through this pandemic. The state desperately needs those businesses. Wake County desperately needs those businesses," added Brereton.

Wake Forward is a Wake County-focused program of the greater NC COVID-19 Rapid Recovery Loan Program. Through September 21, the program had generated 1,120 loans for a total of $40,400,468 to small business owners across the state; Wake Forward outreach had accounted for 241 loans for a total of $8,360,720.

"Once the documentation is provided, it only took a couple days to get the funds transferred to our bank account," said Kasula.

Applications are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are no specifications on when the loan money needs to be spent, and businesses that received PPP loans or other grants could still participate. If you're interested in applying, click here.
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