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County’s restaurant grant program dishes out funding to eight local eateries

SALISBURY — A few days before the restaurant’s 50th anniversary, Gary’s Bar-B-Cue received a gift from Rowan County.

The iconic China Grove restaurant was a recipient of funding from the county’s restaurant grant program, which closed on April 15. The eight restaurants who received $5,000 grants are Ivan’s Restaurant, Stringbean’s BBQ, DJ’s Restaurant and Morgan Ridge Railwalk and Vineyards, Go Burrito, City Tavern and Porky’s.

The restaurant grant program was created specifically by the county to help local dining establishments left out of the county’s earlier small business grant program, which excluded businesses with more than 25 employees. Since many local restaurants have more than 25 staff members, the requirements for the restaurant grant program stated that applicants must have at least 26 full-time employees.

The county budgeted $250,000 for the restaurant program, but only $40,000 was claimed. There were 12 total applicants, County Manager Aaron Church said, but one of them was fictitious, another two weren’t located in Rowan County and a third didn’t qualify for another reason.

Gary Ritchie, the founder and owner of Gary’s Bar-B-Cue, said he was thankful to the county for the grant funding. Ritchie started the restaurant, which is still located at its original location on Highway 29, on April 21, 1971, at just 22 years old.

“I didn’t know how long I was going to make it. I just hoped I would make it,” Ritchie said.

Although the restaurant has hit “just a few snags” along the way, business has been good and customers have continued to come back. 

One of the most difficult times in the restaurant’s storied history came at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it closed its doors for several weeks. Ritchie said the restaurant was able to maintain a staff of about 35 cooks and waiters thanks to funding from the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program. 

As conditions have improved and customers have returned, the restaurant has regained its footing. Ritchie said the county’s restaurant grant program will likely be the last aid his establishment seeks out.

Amie Baudoin, owner of Morgan Ridge Railwalk and Vineyards, said she was glad to see that the county’s restaurant grant program targeted businesses like hers, which have several dozen employees and are still locally owned and operated.

“They targeted this grant for folks like me in the industry and that was helpful,” Baudoin said.

The $5,000 grant, she said, will help the restaurant afford items such as gloves, paper goods and cans that have become significantly more expensive since the pandemic started. 

Baudoin said she is looking forward to applying for funding from the Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Established by the American Rescue Plan, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will administer $28.6 billion to the hardest hit small restaurants in the country. The program will be open to restaurants, bars, caterers, bakeries, inns and other establishments where food and drinks are sold.

The program will provide restaurants with funding equal to pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location. Recipients are not required to repay funding as long as funds are used for eligible uses by March 11, 2023.

Unlike some rounds of the Paycheck Protection Program, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will allow businesses to use the money for a variety of purposes, including the construction of outdoor seating. If her restaurant receives funding from the program, Baudoin said they will consider using part of it to improve shading for its outdoor patio.

“We need some kind of structure over that patio area so we can seat it in the summer time because in the summer you just can’t seat that area,” Baudoin said.

Applicants will apply through the SBA’s website and will be asked to submit tax information and gross receipts to prove revenue loss, among other application materials.

The SBA is currently establishing a seven-day pilot period for the application portal to address any technical issues ahead of public launch. Participants in the pilot will be randomly selected from existing PPP borrowers in priority groups and will not receive funds until the application portal is opened publicly.

Following the seven-day pilot program, the application portal will be opened for the first 21 days only to small businesses owned by women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Once that period is over, all eligible applicants are encouraged to apply.

More information about the SBA’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund can be found online at sba.gov.

With more federal aid on the way and restrictions continuing to ease, Baudoin said she feels a little more optimistic about the future every day. The restaurant’s next big challenge, she said, is staffing her restaurant with waiters and waitresses.

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