Golden Corral, Subway franchises largest beneficiaries in NC of $646M in restaurant relief funds

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BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
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North Carolina bars and restaurants got hundreds of millions of dollars from a federal program, but some claim they should have gotten more.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina bars and restaurants got hundreds of millions of dollars from a federal program, but many still need more.

When the owners of Funnel Queens heard they qualified for $52,000 from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, they were shocked.

"It was a sense of relief for sure. We were like, 'Oh my God, this is something amazing,' It just came out of nowhere," said owners Debra Williams, Charlotte Wade, and Brandi Cunningham.

Before the pandemic, the family made their business by setting up a tent at festivals, fairs, and events. When COVID-19 put a stop to all those gatherings, the Funnel Queens had to get creative.

"It challenged us definitely. As a tent operation, there was no way we would have been able to continue in that vein," Williams said.

That transition from a tent to a food truck was made possible with federal funds awarded through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF).

According to data from the Small Business Administration, as of June 30, 2,579 North Carolina businesses got loans totaling $646,599,223 through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The average loan was just over $250,700.

The relief fund was set up through the American Rescue Plan, the Biden Administration's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan. The fund was created specifically for bars, restaurants, food trucks, caterers and similar businesses hard hit by the pandemic. In total, the program dispensed $28.6 billion.

But far more businesses submitted proposals for grants. According to the data, in North Carolina alone, 6,628 businesses submitted a proposal, totaling more than $1.5 billion in requested funds.

Lynn Minges, the president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the hospitality industry is hurting.

"It's fairly widely known that restaurants and hotels and taverns across the state have suffered disproportionately during COVID-19," Minges said. "We've been advocating at all levels of government for relief for this industry--for restaurants and hotels and bars that have suffered--and really just simply have not received the relief that they need in order to continue to do business in our state."

Minges said through the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants, bars and hotels lost $5 billion statewide, and many haven't been able to recoup those losses. She added that some got funding through the Paycheck Protection Program.

"Taken together, there's still about a $3 billion gap in losses that just have not been met," Minges said.

Find out which businesses received funds near you

Through June 17, the latest day for which full data is available, 229 restaurants in Raleigh, 144 restaurants in Durham and 51 in Fayetteville got loans through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

The program attempted to prioritize funds for economically and socially disadvantaged business owners, veterans and women.

In North Carolina, a little more than a third of funds went to historically marginalized business owners. Less than 10% went to veteran-owned businesses, and about 43% went to women-owned businesses.

Blend of Soul was another female-owned business that benefited from the fund.

"We're like, finally, we're the priority," said Blend of Soul owners Kiera Gardner and Margo Newkirk. "For us, it was like, gosh, we can't get any funding like we just felt like it was just no other option."

The cold-pressed juice business didn't receive any money from the Paycheck Protection Program offered months earlier. And like, the Funnel Queens, the business relied on marketing themselves at community events.

"It did take a hit, I mean, we have to be honest we had to kind of pull from multiple places that we didn't think we had to do," Gardner and Newkirk said.

The duo reinvented themselves by increasing their sales and presence online. The money they received from the RRF helped them purchase a commercial juicer.

Minges said her organization has suggested that in future funding efforts, the North Carolina state legislature and Gov. Roy Cooper put emphasis on need--giving priority to businesses that lost 20% of year over year sales revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"That's a nondiscretionary sort of way to administer the money. We think it could be done fairly and equitably, and that there are no winners and losers," Minges said. "It's literally a pot of money that goes to those that have experienced that 20% decline in revenue and it's fair and equal for all."

Most of the loans distributed to North Carolina restaurants did not go to a franchise, but among those that did, Golden Corral and Subway franchises asked for the most money, $37.8 million and $6 million respectively.

With the majority of North Carolina's 18,000 restaurants, bars and hotels still waiting for relief, Minges said the most important thing patrons can do is be kind as businesses deal with staffing and supply shortages.

"We just ask for kindness, kindness for those workers who are persevering through those tough times," Minges said. "A little bit of kindness goes a long, long way."