The Mercury News

Eateries, bars can get thousands in relief grants

- By Shomik Mukherjee smukherjee@bayareanew­sgroup.com

WALNUT CREEK >> To help out restaurant­s hammered by the prolonged pandemic shutdown, the city will be handing out grants of $5,000 and $10,000.

The City Council has set aside $1 million to pay for the grants, which will be awarded to businesses that have lost at least a quarter of their revenue since late 2019.

To be eligible, businesses also are required to have opened by June 2019, be independen­tly owned (with no more than five locations in the greater Bay Area) and not owe the city any money.

Amid a regional stay-athome order that limits restaurant­s to takeout orders, the money is a welcome lifeline for struggling eateries.

“Most definitely we’re going to apply,” said Darryl Wong, a manager at Burma 2 in downtown. “This second shutdown is really hurting us. Our goal right now is to break even. In a normal time, you would be fired if you were just breaking even.”

Burma 2, which has another location in Dublin (called Burma! Burma!), opened its Walnut Creek spot in June 2019. It was beginning to gather steam in the community when the first COVID-19 stay-at-home order in March “smacked us in the face,” Wong said.

The restaurant has struggled ever since, but especially so amid a monthslong delay in federal relief for small businesses (another round of funding recently was approved).

On the other hand, family-owned Tacos Walnut Creek won’t apply for the city’s grant money and will “leave it for restaurant­s that really need it,” co-owner Geraldo Hernandez said.

The taco shop actually built on its sales revenue during the pandemic. It opened last summer, a little later than Burma 2 and a couple of blocks away.

Hernandez suggested that the type of cuisine offered plays a role in how different restaurant­s have managed over the past year’s cycle of reopenings and closures.

“Mexican food is already popular for takeout,” he said. “Even without the pandemic, a big percentage of our customers already ordered that way.”

The grants can be used to pay rent, payroll, operating expenses, facility upgrades for COVID-19 safety and personal protective equipment.

Dine-in restaurant­s are eligible for $10,000 grants, and fast-food and fast-casual restaurant­s, as well as bars and breweries, can apply for the $5,000 ones.

To apply, restaurant­s will need to submit past tax returns and profit-loss statements, documents that the city will not release to the public under state law.

The money can be audited, and the city also can use a “clawback provision” to demand repayment from restaurant­s that are later determined to be ineligible.

On Tuesday, the City Council unanimousl­y approved the program, allocating $1 million left over from last year’s budget.

Although Councilman Matt Francois praised the city’s investment, he questioned why similar grants haven’t been made available to the city’s retail businesses, which a city staff member said have generated about 21% less in sales tax revenue since late 2019.

“We were aware that the pandemic was hitting all of our small-business categories, not just restaurant­s,” replied Teri Killgore, Walnut Creek assistant city manager. “But the general feeling was that restaurant­s were being impacted in a really tangible way, and that they weren’t able to sell as effectivel­y as retailers who were already on web channels.”

Restaurant­s looking to secure the grant money can apply on the city’s website, walnut-creek.org, starting today.

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