Senator Cantwell Meets With Restaurant Owners From Across Washington State About Need for Additional COVID Relief

In state, 7,236 restaurants submitted RRF grant applications, but only 3,247 received funding before the money ran out

EDMONDS, WA – Today,U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hosted a virtual round table with restaurant owners from across Washington state to discuss the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the need to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) established by the American Rescue Plan for addition relief amidst the recent omicron surge.

The roundtable participants included: Anthony Anton, CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association; Steve Valenta, Owner of The Mighty Bowl in Vancouver; Oliver Bangera, Owner of Nirmals in Seattle; Lisa Emery, Owner of Swinging Doors in Spokane; Doug and Carrie Lundgren, Co-Owners of Cedars at Pier One in Kennewick; and Ethan Stowell, Owner of Ethan Stowell Restaurants in Seattle. The recording of the discussion can be found here with each speaker timestamped.

“We need our local communities to have these great businesses and we want to continue to support you even though the pandemic continues… We want to take today’s information and go back to Washington DC and fight even harder to get a second round,” said Senator Cantwell. “This is so important to do because what we’ve heard just from the National Restaurant Association surveys that they released yesterday that conditions by restauranteurs are worse today than they were just three months ago. So it shows us that the Omicron variant of the COVID pandemic is just one more wave of pressure on our local restaurants which are such great employers for our community.”

The American Rescue Plan established the RRF to provide $29 billion funding for restaurants and bars to cover operating costs, including payroll, and the construction of outdoor seating, to help keep their doors open. In Washington state, 7,236 restaurants submitted RRF grant applications and only 3,247 of them, less than half, received funding before the RRF ran out of money in May 2021. In the first year of the pandemic, over 2,300 restaurants throughout the State of Washington have closed.

Oliver Bangera, owner of Nirmals in Seattle, said during the roundtable, “We are wondering how long we can survive. I can’t open my restaurant for lunch because there is nobody in town because most of the people are working from home, we don’t have staff… and the prices are just killing us… And yet, we have to keep our doors open, we have to pay our bills. Omicron, eight of my employees are out with omicron… So I’m running food now. There’s nothing we can do. We have to still survive. We cannot close the door because once you shut the door, it’s so hard to open it again.”

Lisa Emery, owner of Swinging Doors in Spokane, said, “It’s really hard to be open air dining in Spokane in December, but we did it. We spent more money on tents and heaters, and we had a capacity of 19 people, and still kept people working… We’re still now faced with this omicron variant. We also have staff that are rotating in and out because they’re sick and we want them to stay home but we are short staffed. We have customers staying home again because they’re scared of the variant. We are now facing higher prices… We thought 2022 would be the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel but not so much.”

Ethan Stowell, owner of Ethan Stowell restaurants said, “Omicron, I can certainly testify, is the hardest time of the pandemic by far. It just is… I help a lot of people with their businesses… And there are a lot of people stressed out right now… Most of them have their house guaranteed for the lease or for a loan. You’re not talking about just losing $160,000, you’re talking about people losing homes, you’re talking about people going bankrupt, you’re talking about people ruining their credit scores and not being able to get apartments… I also want to talk about the [Restaurant Revitalization Program]. Two thirds of businesses did not get funded. I want to be very clear, I’m not mad at the ones that got it. I just think it’s fairer to fully fund it.”

Senator Cantwell has been a strong and consistent advocate for providing COVID relief to restaurants during the pandemic, from speaking on the Senate floor urging the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act to advocating for more relief when funds ran out last summer. At a Senate Small Business Committee hearing last year, Cantwell pressed U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabel Guzman about the need to provide more funding for the RRF.

You can find the full video of the roundtable with timestamps for each speaker HERE.