April 20, 2022, 6:40 PM PT
Georgia Stathoulis, owner and chef at Georgia’s Greek Cuisine in the Midway district, said that a $2,000 grant from the California Restaurant Foundation helped her business get through the pandemic last year.
Now, another round of grants from the foundation’s Resilience Fund could help restaurants like hers tackle a new set of challenges and make it through the next phase of pandemic recovery.
“Considering how many people went under I think we were very blessed here. I was really very blessed from our customers’ love ... and also from my determination that I’m not going to lose the restaurant like that,” said Stathoulis.
Her restaurant, in the PetSmart shopping center off Rosecrans, has served traditional Greek food to San Diegans since 1977. Stathoulis said that the past few years have been difficult, but she was determined to not let her business go down without a fight.
One of the things that helped her business stick it out during the pandemic was that $2,000 from the California Restaurant Foundation’s Restaurants Care Resilience Fund.
As local restaurants like Georgia’s continue to face new challenges recovering from the pandemic, the California Restaurant Foundation, a nonprofit that supports and invests in California’s restaurant workforce, is dishing out grants again this year.
Local utility providers SoCalGas and SDG&E have returned as funding partners for the Resilience Fund, which has reached nearly $1.5 million this year. PG&E and Wells Fargo are also financially supporting the recovery of California’s restaurant workforce through the fund and through support services for grant recipients to improve their long-term business success.
Last year the fund doled out 318 grants to independent restaurant owners across California. In San Diego County, 77 local restaurants received $2,000 grants last year to help with payroll and other expenses to survive.
This year’s fund is aimed at helping small businesses thrive in the next phase of recovery with a focus on challenges in “kitchens and crews,” said Alycia Harshfield, executive director of the California Restaurant Foundation.
“A lot of restaurants have said that 2021 and 2022 were harder than 2020,” Harshfield said in a phone interview.
Waves of COVID-19 variants reduced staffing and operating hours for many restaurants, adding another layer of challenges for small business owners after two years of incurring debt and deferring maintenance costs.
The funding from the California Restaurant Foundation is geared toward helping independent restaurant owners tackle the new issues of rising costs, staffing and updating their equipment. Harshfield said it’s been difficult for these businesses to compete with big businesses, so this support helps them run more efficiently and move into the next phase of recovery.
Across the board, a top challenge for businesses has been staffing shortages. The grants will help businesses put money toward employee retention bonuses. About 68 percent of restaurant operators said they’ve had to reduce hours of operation because they are understaffed, says the National Restaurant Association.
Additionally, she said the grant money will go toward updating equipment as many restaurants had to divert every penny they had to stay afloat.
Stathoulis said she remembers driving through downtown San Diego with her husband at the start of the pandemic and feeling dismayed by all of the vacant storefronts. Despite the challenges, Stathoulis said she was determined not to close because if she did, she feared they might not open again.
Stathoulis said that last year’s grant was a big help with her rent and payroll expenses. She has six employees in addition to her family, who have helped run the restaurant for 44 years.
Over the past year, the rising cost of supplies and the challenge of importing her ingredients like olives, cheese and pasta from Greece have made her adapt her menu, especially as she tries to keep costs down for customers.
Grant applications opened on April 15 and close on April 30. California-based restaurant owners with less than three locations and less than $3 million in revenue are eligible to apply.
Harshfield said priority will be given to businesses owned by women and people of color.
The fund has allocated grants of $3,000 each for 50 San Diego County restaurants and last year’s grant recipients can reapply, Harshfield said.
Grant recipients will also receive a year of support services such as monthly Zoom sessions to talk about tools that will help their business succeed in the long run such as marketing and menu design, she said.
The grant application and additional information about the California Restaurant Foundation’s Restaurants Care Resilience Fund can be found at www.restaurantscare.org/resilience
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